Playdates, nap times, and parent meetings — it’s easy to let meal planning and healthy cooking slip down the list of priorities when you are juggling little ones. Back in my pre-parent days I can remember spending entire Saturdays doing nothing but pouring through cookbooks and stirring at the stove. But these days my time in the kitchen is much more limited, and it definitely makes providing healthy, balanced meals for my family much more challenging.
But healthy cooking doesn’t have to be time consuming or overwhelming, and with a little planning and preparation you can make sure to set your family up for a healthy week.
Here are ten quick shortcuts that I use that will help you get more vegetables and nutrients onto the dinner table or into the lunch bags in no time at all:
Use a rice cooker 1 of 10
My rice cooker is my most used kitchen appliance. It is such an easy way to make things like grains and beans with almost zero work or prep. You measure, dump, and set the timer (or just press go!) and dinner is ready before you know it. No burnt rice pans and minimal cleanup. This is a great way to quickly make some bulk grains, lentils, and other pantry goods at the beginning of the week!
Have extra rice left? Try using it in one of these 7 great recipes for leftover rice.
Make soups 2 of 10
Soup is such a healthy and easy way to get in extra veggies. I like to make a big batch at the beginning of each week and keep it in the fridge for quick lunches and toddler dinners. For some reason my toddler is willing to eat all sorts of veggies in soup form that he would never touch otherwise.
And few things are better than a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter evening. Check out these 12 comforting soup recipes to get you started!
Plan for indulgances 3 of 10
I tend to find that I am most successful with healthy eating when I plan a few indulgences into my week. For example, if I know we are going out for pancakes on Saturday morning, I am more likely to choose breakfasts like scrambled eggs or oatmeal during the week (instead of donuts or loaded bagels). Planning a few treats throughout the week — like one of these 25 salty and sweet treats — gives you something yummy to look forward to, which makes it easier to choose healthier options at other meals.
Join a CSA 4 of 10
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a system where you can get regular local, seasonal produce deliveries from local farms. Typically, a farm will offer a number of shares — or memberships — to the public. In return, members receive a box of fresh produce once a week throughout the farming season.
By signing up for a CSA, you not only support your local farming community, but you also ensure that your family is getting a regular produce deliveries — meaning healthy snacks and vegetables should always be available!
Visit LocalHarvest.org for more information about finding a CSA in your area!
Use clear storage containers 5 of 10
We have a set of white metal bowls with lids that we use a lot for leftovers, and inevitably I forget what is in them almost every time and so much food gets wasted. Recently, I invested in a new set of Pyrex storage containers to replace the old bowls, and it's amazing what a difference some clear glass can make. Visible healthy options are more likely to be chosen when you're quickly glancing in the fridge for a snack!
Photo from Flickr.
Meal plan 6 of 10
Speaking of planning, meal planning is one of the best way to keep your family on a healthy track. By planning meals out in advance, ingredients can be prepped and ready, and there are far fewer frantic calls for takeout or trips through the drive-through. Meal planning is also a great way to try out new recipes!
Prep your snacks ahead of time 7 of 10
It's great to have a fridge stocked with healthy fruits and veggies, but unless they are ready to grab n' go it can still feel like there is nothing to eat when you gaze inside. Spend an hour slicing and dicing — prepping things like sliced cucumbers, washed tomatoes, bell pepper strips, de-stemmed grapes, and even peeled oranges. The easier something is to just grab and eat, the more likely you are to throw it in your diaper bag or toss together a quick snack for hungry kids.
Cook in bulk 8 of 10
Whenever I make a meal I try to cook enough to feed us at least two to three times. Why do all that prep and work for one meal that will disappear in a matter of minutes? I love roasting huge pans of vegetables or making a giant pot of lentils, and knowing that I have healthy options to pull from the next day for lunches or quick dinners.
Photo from Flickr.
Prep veggies ahead of time 9 of 10
If you know you are going to be short on time in the evenings, consider prepping all your dinner ingredients earlier in the day. Chop and wash veggies and set aside in the fridge until you are ready to toss them into the pan. Depending on the ingredients, you can even prep a few days ahead of time (Sunday afternoons are great for this!) so you are in good shape for the week ahead.
Stock your freezer 10 of 10
All the prep and plans in the world can't change the fact that sometimes life with kids can be too hectice to get a decent home-cooked meal onto the table. On nights where time is short, don't be afraid to dig into your freezer. By keeping a few staples on hand - peas, carrots, veggie medleys, etc. — you can make sure there is always a healthy option on hand that needs no prep and has no expiration.