Getting a meal on the table three times a day – or up to six times a day with small kids – is tough. I talk about food, meal planning, and cooking all day long and even still, I often find myself unsure of what to prepare each night. Add in the challenges of managing a hungry toddler (or a few) and the fatigue of pregnancy, stress, illness, or an overly full extracurricular calendar, and preparing a fresh meal at home can feel an insurmountable task. As a result, fast food, take out, prepared meals and processed instant dishes – once an occasional treat or time saver – have become staples in many households. I won’t get into the details of the potential health risks of consuming a diet high in processed foods (at least not in this post). Suffice to say that most people understand that it is not the best health choice, but other priorities or realities of life discourage increased cooking at home.
So how do we manage all the demands on our time and energy and still eat well? Barring hiring a nutrition focused personal chef, there are a few things that we can do to make it a little easier.
- Be kind to yourself. There certainly is a difference between a simple supper and a gourmet meal, but the latter is not necessarily (or at all) healthier than the former. In our instagram-pinterest-snapchat world of beautiful food everywhere we turn, we start to believe that all meals must look like that and include heirloom-this and truffle-infused that. They don’t.
- Lock in the basics. Include a protein source, a carbohydrate, and veggies and fruits. Add some dairy or alternative if you like. This helps you and the family feel satisfied and stay well nourished. Simple examples: chicken breast, salad, rice, or eggs, tomato and avocado slices, and hash browns.
- Go for cold meals or one-pot meals. Try a sandwich, a fruit and some veggie sticks and cheese or a glass of milk and you’re golden. Or go for pasta with tomato and meat/lentil sauce. Try a greek chickpea pasta salad for a warm and cold option. Breakfast for supper is one of my personal favourites: pancakes, eggs, and fruit or a smoothie.
- Take advantage of convenience items. Pre-washed and cut vegetables, whole rotisserie chickens, canned beans and fish, marinated meat skewers and grill-ready veggies, frozen fruits and stir-fry mixes. I am the first to admit that I used to ridicule the existence of these items, but truly they are just as healthy as freshly prepped versions and they shave a lot of time and stress off of meal prep at home.
- Batch cook when you can. If you’re making soup, make a larger batch and keep some for a busy night. If you’re baking chicken breast, make some extra for another night.
- Plan to go out or order in sometimes if you can afford it. Again, cut yourself some slack. For the first two weeks of each of my childrens’ lives we ate almost exclusively take-out food. If you plan ahead for eating out, you’re more likely to choose foods that will help rejuvenate your energy, rather than last minute choices that don’t sit so well.
My best advice, try not to overthink it. You’ll be fine. Bon appetit.