If you’re today’s typical parent, you may not think you have time to cook a healthy dinner for your family. You may work outside of the home, or you may spend the day running numerous household errands; either way, you constantly feel like you are barely keeping your head above water. It seems there is just no time to go to the grocery store, plan what to eat, be sure you have all the recipe items in the house, and then actually cook a healthy meal. Another day when you decide you will just pick up drive-through fast food or order a pizza to get something in everyone’s stomach before heading out to the next scheduled practice or lesson.
Stop! I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to feed your kids junk food anymore: You can make a balanced meal at home in a hurry. You know that fast food is not a good option, that burgers and fries and pizza are giving all of you too much fat, too many calories, and not enough nutrition. Yet so many parents see this as their only option because they know they can pick up the food (or call for delivery) and have it on the table in less than 30 minutes. They let the health of their family suffer due to time constraints. Well, it just takes a bit of a mental adjustment to see that preparing a healthy dinner is not an unattainable feat.
First, get over the idea that you must cook completely from scratch. This is not an all-or-nothing deal. It’s not, “either pizza with pepperoni or a whole roasted chicken with potatoes that takes three hours.” Make some compromises and consider picking up a roasted chicken from the supermarket. Then all you have to do is make some quick side dishes, like instant mashed potatoes and frozen broccoli. Now you have a balanced meal with a fresh wholesome source of protein (that isn’t fried), complex carbohydrates (ready in five minutes) and a vegetable (and certainly you realize that frozen veggies are far better than none!).
Second, remember that processed foods are not evil. They were made to help busy parents who are precisely in your predicament. Certainly, if you had the time to make fresh mashed sweet potatoes and cut up fresh orange sections, life would be lovely. But considering what you have been serving for dinner, instant mashed sweet potatoes and canned mandarin oranges make a superb alternative as sides to hamburgers you actually flip yourself when you buy fresh ground chuck that is lower in fat than fast foods. Another healthy, balanced meal on the table in less than 20 minutes.
Third, realize that if you don’t buy all organic you are not poisoning your family. Maybe it would be nice if you had time to home-grow everything you wanted to eat, or even spend your weekends browsing in the local farmer’s market. But you don’t! Instead of resorting to the worst option (ordering out again and serving very high fat, high sodium, low quality food made by someone else), consider that buying lower fat entrees made by a company that froze them for you will be a healthier meal idea. You can set a frozen lasagna on the table that just takes pre-heating the oven an hour before dinner and taking it out to eat; you can serve frozen vegetables (or even canned) and a cut up cantaloupe. Voila! Another balanced meal. Whatever you serve in your home, you have access to the ingredient labels and you can decide which foods are better than others. Compare labels to find a lower fat, lower sodium, or lower calorie option to help your kids from becoming overweight before they become adults. When you order something from a restaurant, you are ignoring what you don’t want to find out you are feeding your family.
I want to encourage you to try another way: If you don’t have time to cook from scratch, don’t give up! There are some great compromises between being the happy homemaker and serving take-out every night. It will be better for your pocketbook and your conscience, not to mention your family’s health, if you make some small compromises and find some great alternatives in the grocery store to put a balanced meal on the table. Remember to look for easy-to-make meals that include some foods pre-cooked and frozen, and others that are ready-to-eat. Foods that come in a box, can, or freezer bag may not be as superior as cooking whole foods from scratch, but they are a much healthier option than meat and potatoes out of a fryer, served in a bag. Realizing you are preparing a meal for your family, serving them fruits and vegetables they were not eating before, and having you all sit around a table enjoying a meal together will reap a whole lot of rewards.
Image credit: Cindy Kalamajka
Laurie Beebe is a registered dietitian with over 25 years of experience. She assists people from all walks of life in changing their diet for better health. Certified in Adult Weight Management, Laurie has transitioned into life coaching to better implement changes in people’s environments. No matter how much people know about what they ‘should’ be doing differently, they don’t alter their habits without making adjustments in their surroundings and their awareness. Coaching helps lead people to permanent changes by helping them set their own goals and design their own action plans. Please visit Laurie’s website for more free nutrition tips, a free monthly newsletter, or more information on coaching, at www.mycoachlaurie.com.