By Melanie K Nelson
As the summer turns to fall and the schedules go from carefree to super-busy, healthy meals often get replaced by their grab-and-go counterparts. As easy as it is to turn to the toaster pastries and drive-through lanes, it’s important to remember that you are shaping your children’s relationship with food for the rest of their lives! No pressure! Never fear, read on for my family’s favorite tips for speedy and healthy meals.
Starting the day off with a healthy, balanced breakfast will help your family put their best feet forward! For years studies have proven the positive effects of eating a healthy breakfast including increased focus, higher energy, and better weight control. All that being said it’s easy to see why so many people skip breakfast; the morning is often the most hectic time of day! That is why my family’s go-to breakfast is a smoothie. Smoothies are perfect because you can get a lot of great nutrients in one glass, they take less than a minute to make, and you can easily drink them while you get ready or even in the car!
The secret to super healthy smoothies is all in the balance of ingredients. I like to think of the perfect smoothie in four parts: fruit, veggies, body, and boosts. For the fruit portion, remember that although fruit is healthy, it’s also high in sugar so it shouldn’t be the only ingredient in your smoothie. Drinking veggies may sound gross but trust me, you can barely tell that they are there! The sweetness of the fruit masks the flavor of most mild vegetables. Try greens like spinach, broccoli, cucumber or even kale. If you are worried that your kids won’t drink a smoothie if it’s green, pair the veggies with dark berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) and your kids will never know there is green in their cup! You have several options for the “body” of the smoothie. If you want it sweeter, add in 100% fruit juice. If you want your smoothie more filling, try a few scoops of Greek yogurt. If you want it creamy without the dairy, use a frozen banana and water. Finally you have optional boosts that you can add to make your breakfast even healthier. I like adding almonds, flax seeds and chia seeds to my smoothies, but do a little reading to find out what might be missing from your families diet. Good mix-ins include low-calorie protein powder, nuts and seeds, and healthy oils (flax, coconut, ect).
My pick for best blender is the NutriBullet. It is a single serving blender that grinds everything from greens to flax seeds for a perfectly smooth smoothie!
Lunch can be tricky with kids wanting to eat school lunch and drive-throughs calling out to you as you hustle to a meeting. If you are packing a lunch (for you or the kids) try to avoid getting into a lunch rut! Peanut butter and jelly may be quick and easy, but it isn’t very healthy, filling, or fun. Try mixing up your lunches with cold pasta salads, interesting sandwiches, or quinoa salads. If you won’t have access to refrigerators avoid cheese and instead try mustard or hummus on the sandwiches!
Sometimes letting your kids eat at school is the most time efficient way to handle lunch, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice health. If you aren’t going to pack your kids a lunch, sit down and talk with them about making good choices in the lunch line. Most kids are tempted by pizza, French fries and desserts, but it is possible to talk to kids of any age about nutrition! If they are young, try explaining that eating healthy foods is like filling a car up with gas. The gas makes the car run, just like healthy foods give your body energy. Unhealthy foods make it harder for your body to run. As they get a little older have them think of food as similar to money. Tell them that they have certain “treat budgets.” They can choose to have a brownie at lunch or an ice cream bar after school. Or they get fries with their lunch only if the other part of the meal is a salad. Kids are often empowered by getting to choose their treats, rather than being told what they can and cannot have. Finally, as your kids get older they may get involved in sports or other after school activities. Teach your children that what food they put into their bodies has a direct effect on how well they are able to do whatever it is they want to do. Eating healthy food helps your athletic, mental, and even social abilities! It is not about telling your children that they can’t have unhealthy foods, it’s about teaching moderation.
Dinners can be hard to pull together when your family is busy, but there are some tricks to making it run a little smoother.
Pre-chop your veggies. Buying the pre-chopped vegetables at the store often leads to a higher bill and less fresh produce. That being said, if you find yourself with an extra 15-20 minutes on Sunday night, prep a few ingredients that you know you will use that week. Peeling veggies, dicing onions and thawing frozen meats ahead of time will make pulling together a weeknight dinner take half the time!
Cook, portion, freeze. The weekend is a great time to cook big meals (like lasagna, soup and stir-fry), then portion it into individual servings and freeze them. This way on nights that you don’t have time to cook, you can simply heat and serve! I know that they sell frozen meals in the grocery store but you can’t control what is in those meals. Pre-made meals are almost always full of too much sodium and preservatives that you can avoid by making it yourself!
Embrace the trends. Slow-cooked meals made in crock-pots is super “in” right now. I am not kidding, crock pots have gone from sitting untouched at garage sales and to flying off the shelves in less than a year! Take advantage of this trend and find a new favorite recipe on the thousands of food blogs that are obsessed with slow-cooked food trend. The best part is that you can set your crock-pot to cook all day and be perfectly done by the time your family is home and ready for dinner!
I hope these tips help you and your family eat healthy and stress free during this new school year. Good food is way too important to your family’s health and overall quality of life not to give it a little extra thought!