A hectic family life often leaves little room for home-cooked meals. If rushing your kids from piano lessons to baseball practice leads you to the drive-through more often than you would like to admit, take heart. You don't always have to rely on frozen meals and fast food. Stock up on healthy ingredients and you can whip up a nutritious meal right in your own kitchen.
Eating healthy can help you:
- Control your weight
- Stay focused at work or school
- Do your best when you're physically active
Federal guidelines recommend that half your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables. Smaller servings of grains, protein and dairy products are ideal.
One important thing to remember: Cooking at home may lead to better choices about what you eat and drink, according to federal guidance. Making a meal doesn't have to be one person's job. Very young kids can help decide the menu. Older children can mix a salad or set the table. Make it a family affair!
To get started, meal planning can help you stay on track when time is short. If you have a basic idea for about a week's worth of meals, it's easier to do the grocery shopping and cooking. Start with a main dish, like baked chicken, spaghetti or crock-pot stew. Then you can add a vegetable or whole-grain roll to round out the meal.
Here are some ideas to help you create fast, nutritious meals, breakfast, lunch or dinner:
- Zap instant oatmeal made with water or fat-free milk.
- Top fat-free or low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit slices.
- Fill a whole-wheat pita with sliced hard-boiled egg and low-fat cheese.
- Toast an English muffin and add lean ham and low-fat cheese.
- Blend up a smoothie, using frozen fruit and a banana.
- Crack eggs and then scramble or hard-boil them, or make a frittata.
- Brown-bag it with a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
- Skip the meat. Try veggie burgers instead of hamburgers. Or use low-fat protein sources like lentils or quinoa at the base for meals.
- Use cooked chicken or vegetables from a previous meal in wraps, quesadillas or casseroles.
- Add canned beans. They can be used in many meals, and they're cheap.
- Double a healthy recipe. Then freeze half for later meals.
- Cook potatoes by baking, boiling, steaming or microwaving them.
- Stock up on frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
- Keep a supply of staples like frozen seafood, dried fruit and whole-wheat pasta.
- Use the bulk bins at the grocery store. You can buy exactly the amount you need of beans, nuts, spices or grains. It can be less wasteful and often cheaper than packaged foods.
Healthy snacks, too, can tame your hunger until you have time to make a meal. You might try:
- Apples, grapes or berries
- Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
- A small portion of almonds
- Baby carrots
- Peanut butter on whole-grain crackers
Some families find it hard to cook in a busy week. It might help to do some of the preparation beforehand. You could chop vegetables or make a salad in advance. Or try cooking a big meal on the weekends, when you have more time. Then use the leftovers the next week, or freeze them.
Note: Some foods can make small children choke. Avoid small, hard, whole foods like hard candy, dried fruit, popcorn and nuts. Cut fruits and veggies into pieces smaller than a nickel. Cut round foods like cherry tomatoes and grapes in half. Cut hot dogs lengthwise. Always have your preschoolers sit down when they eat and monitor them when eating.
Created on 02/16/2007
Updated on 09/22/2013
- Weight-control information network. Charge up: healthy meals and snacks for teens.
- Eatright.org. Delicious family dinners for weeknights.
- Eatright.org. Power up with breakfast.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Choosemyplate.gov. Cook more often at home.