If you’re a parent, you know how hectic day-to-day life can be. With all the hustle-and-bustle of taking care of kids, getting to work, getting home, running errands and getting everything ready to do it all over again tomorrow, it can be tough to plan healthy meals for the family. It is part of the reason fast food is so popular: it’s fast. Time is a precious commodity for most families, so sometimes grabbing whatever is handy is the go-to answer for getting food in our tummies. Of course, doing so typically means we’re not eating what’s best for us, as convenience and health don’t tend to coincide very often.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce agrees. “Time likely is the biggest challenge to healthy dinner planning, since we have so many activities potentially going on at once. Fast food looks like the only option sometimes, but with a plan, you can avoid those pitfalls,” she said. “I'm not saying you should never have fast food because some do offer healthy options, but we have to remember to choose them. Let's face it; once you've smelled the french fries, it's over for most of us. So, we’ve safely determined that time usually is the obstacle, but it also can be positive,” she explained. “While you're at work or running errands during the day, you can let the crock pot do the hard work. Many busy moms will prepare meals over the weekend and freeze them. This way, you don't have to ‘cook’ so much as ‘assemble,’” she added.
Pierce suggests the idea of setting “theme nights” for meals. “Having a theme night does two things: it gives you a plan and allows you to be creative,” she said. “If you have ‘Taco Tuesdays,’ you know your grocery shopping list has to reflect the items you’re going to need for that night. Ideally, it's nice to have a thought-out list before you go shopping to reduce impulse purchases such as the chocolate chip cookies that are in the middle of an aisle and catch your eye. Avoiding these junk foods can help you have larger quantities of healthy foods in your home, which gets your kitchen and eating environment ready to support a healthier lifestyle,” she explained. “Plus, if you have something at home, you'll have a reason not to stop at fast food places. Chances are, you won't give in to the temptation, or at least you’ll be giving yourself a way out of that option,” she added.
Pierce says the idea of a “plan” sometimes can be tough to get your mind around. “The word ‘plan’ is, honestly, not my favorite,” she said. “I prefer to avoid getting into a rigid plan. For instance, I'll think of four or five quick meals to prepare each week for dinner, and choose which one I'll fix based on our moods, appetites or the weather. This leaves more room for flexibility and creativity, which I enjoy. But if you like a plan, definitely consider trying out theme nights to make planning a bit more fun instead of rigid,” she added.
And it’s not just dinners that can be improved by thinking ahead. “This way of thinking can, of course, work for any meal or snack,” Pierce said. “Having quick breakfast items on-hand can help make sure you eat breakfast in the morning, which is crucial as it sets the stage for better appetite regulation throughout the day. Having a healthy snack with you – as opposed to relying on a snack machine – is a win, as well, as it keeps you on track for healthier eating throughout the day,” she added.