Is it even possible? In today’s modern world, many families have either two full-time working parents or a single parent doing it all, so the thought of whipping together a healthy, home-cooked meal certainly does feel daunting. If I can offer any encouragement to you this month, it’s to know that eating healthy at home is possible, if you start by shifting your mindset and keeping it simple.
Let me start by introducing myself. I am a full-time health coach and the new Wellness Director here at AllOne Health. My husband and I have five small humans at home, ranging from 2 – 16 years old so it’s a bit of a circus. Do I cook homemade meals every night? Not a chance. Do I have a backup plan and rules in place at all times? You better believe it!
First, make eating together a priority. Your family will always eat better when you eat together. I remember growing up, we had to sit down every single morning with my mom and start the day together. It certainly cut into my hair crimping and bang curling priorities but it was one of the best habits my mom ever instilled in me. Make dinner time a priority at your home. Kids who regularly eat meals with their families are not only healthier, but they also do better in school, develop more advanced language skills, and are less likely to drink alcohol or experiment with drugs as teenagers (Fiese and Schwartz, 2008).
If your kids are picky, don’t give up! Remember, you are still the parent and get to set the ground rules. Give them the chance to help at the grocery store or in the kitchen. Always give them choices at dinner but don’t cook separate meals for them. Start with the fruits or vegetables they will eat and expand from there. And always, lead by example. When kids see you eating a side salad first at dinner or cutting up fresh fruit for movie night, they will follow suit.
Plan meals ahead of time. The chances of coming home after a long day of work, deciding what to make for dinner, and then finding all the right ingredients are slim to none. Avoid this problem by spending an hour coming up with a menu for the week. Consider creating a family calendar that includes everyone’s activities, as well as the planned menu for each day. Everyone will know what to expect, and you can maximize the chances you’ll be able to quickly put together a healthy family meal.
Remember that a healthy dinner consists of 3-4 food groups, or according to www.myplate.gov, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. This should feel encouraging because instead of thinking you have to become the new Kraft Mom or Pinterest guru, you can rely on a turkey sandwich with tomato soup or macaroni and cheese with broccoli and grilled chicken. Oftentimes, we put so much pressure on ourselves to create beautiful home-cooked meals when really it’s just about variety and recycling throughout the week. Somedays, we eat pancakes with fruit and yogurt for dinner. Other nights, we have chicken veggies pizzas. Ultimately, you want to have one source of lean protein, 1-2 veggies, and 1 complex carbohydrate for dinner.
Create an emergency list. You know those nights when you are driving home from work or jumping off your last conference call and you have absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. We’ve all been there, myself included! Create an emergency list of meals that you can rely on, especially when you fail to plan. We are much more likely to eat healthy at home than we are if we choose take-out options. Your emergency list contains 4-5 meals that are quick and easy to prepare, as well as always stocked in your freezer or pantry. For example, our family emergency list includes the following:
Cauliflower Fried Rice Night
Tortellini & Spinach Soup
This list is kept on the inside door of my pantry. When I go to restock groceries at the store, I make sure all of the ingredients for these meals are always on hand or added to the grocery list. This gives me a handful of meals to rely on, especially when I don’t feel like cooking or fail to plan entirely!
Eating healthy takes intentional effort each week. Whether you are cooking for one or cooking for seven, if you make nutrition a priority within your home, you’ll learn through practice. If anything, just take action and choose one of these ideas today. Discuss it with your family and get their input. A goal on your own is harder to sustain but if it is a goal for everyone to adapt together, you’ll be surprised how much easier it can feel long term. You got this!