Parents are always juggling many priorities. However, in times when obesity, diabetes, food allergies, and picky eaters are so prevalent, the most important priority is the health of their families. With everyone’s busy schedules, it’s hard to provide healthy foods all the time and not reach for the wacky mac or frozen pizzas. But it is possible with a bit of planning and organization. Below are my best tips that can help your family get on the right track.
Be Organized! Create a shopping list at the start of the week. Take into account each family member’s food preferences. Make a tentative meal plan early in the week so you can buy all the ingredients you will need in advance. Try to prepare one main meal for everyone so you’re not a short order cook.
Cook Ahead! Pick a day at the beginning of the week that you’ll have available time (hard as it may be!) to prepare and store items in the fridge or freezer. Slice up fruits and vegetables and keep them in the fridge. This will help save time when preparing salads during the week and make grabbing healthy snacks easier.
Carry to-go sized sandwich bags filled with healthy snacks on you at all times. It’s better to have them on hand before hunger cues set in and you’re tempted to run to the nearest drive through. The pre-portioned bags allow you to stave off hunger and eat appropriate serving sizes of food. Some examples of to-go foods include baby carrots, grapes, almonds, apple slices, celery sticks, and string cheese.
Serve an Appetizer! In that time before dinner, when the meal is still being prepared and other family members are vocal of how hungry they are, try to offer a healthy appetizer. It is perfectly fine to serve part of the meal before the whole meal is done cooking. For instance, defrost a bag of frozen peas so you and your children can munch on it until dinner is ready.
Green Your Plates! Make it a rule in your house that everyone needs to eat one fruit or vegetable with every meal. You might be thinking, “There’s no way that I can do that in my house.” Well, it’s all about how you phrase it. Rather than wage into a battle and ask your child “What vegetable do you want with dinner?,” save yourself time and energy by stating “Would you rather have broccoli or string beans with your dinner?”.
Get Your Kids Involved! Current nutrition guidelines from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) use the ChooseMyPlate model where it’s encouraged that at each meal half your plate consist of fruits and vegetables, ¼ of whole grain carbohydrates, and the remaining ¼ of lean protein. Demonstrate this to your children and make MyPlate an activity for them to replicate on their own plate. Mealtime struggles can be minimized if children understand your expectations of what constitutes a balanced dinner.
Good eating patterns develop at an early age. Learning how to incorporate healthy habits into the busy lives of your family will be a major benefit to everybody.
Author Aimee Zipkin is a registered dietitian with a passion for fresh, delicious food and providing nutrition education. Aimee received her MS in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and completed a rigorous clinical dietetic internship through North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. Follow her on Twitter at @AimeeZipkin.