You pull up to your daughter’s 6:30 pm soccer practice, and as she bounds out of the car, she has to stop and pick up a few fast food wrappers that floated out of the car along with her. You’ve been known to feed your kids dry cereal, straight out of the box, for more than one meal. Your son has every drive-through restaurant’s kids’ menus memorized, along with the complimentary toys that are featured each month. Your car has a constant underlying odor of French fries. These aren’t signs of poor parenting or a lack of nutritional concern, but rather a simple sum when families mix active schedules with hungry mouths at dinnertime. There’s no doubt about it – eating healthy as a family is just plain hard, even without the stress of time and logistics that sports games, music practices, and after school clubs add to the mix. Though difficult, healthy eating on the run is far from impossible. We’d like to offer a few real-life ideas, for real-life, busy, hungry families.
- Change up your notions of what, and when, “proper” meals should be. If your kids are hungry enough for a meal right after school, why not give them one? Consider doing an easy “dinner” in the afternoon of grilled cheese and veggies, whole grain spaghetti with tomato sauce, or a bean, cheese, and bell pepper quesadilla, instead of the usual apples or cookies. Then, before or after evening activities, you’ll feel much better about slipping them a quick granola bar as they run through the door.
- Go thermal. Need a satisfying nibble in the car? Pack up a thermal lunch tote with plastic divided to-go dishes and your options are nearly endless. Cheese, crackers and olives? Hard-boiled eggs, baby carrots and a PB&J? Yogurt, granola and some rolled-up turkey slices? Celery spread with nut butter and raisins? Add in some fresh or canned fruit and you’ve got a meal-worthy snack that is easy, kid-delicious and healthy. What’s even better? Your handy thermal bag can even be packed first thing in the morning (cooling packs included, of course), and it will be ready for hungry, school-famished kids later that afternoon. Quick tip: Just don’t forget a car supply of napkins and filled-up water bottles!
- Slow and steady wins the race. If you’ve become disenchanted with your slow-cooker, picturing gray, mushy meat and veggies, it’s time to dust it off and let it do its home-cooking, set-it-and-forget-it magic. Not only does food come out moist and delicious, but options abound for healthy, protein and veggie-rich dishes and soups. Many recipes call for vegetables to be added just in the last 30 minutes of cooking, retaining their flavor and nutrients. Also, it might be time to re-think slow-cooker dinners. Feeding a crowd at various times throughout the afternoon and evening? Try seasoned black or pinto beans for burritos, ground beef for sloppy joes, lime-and-cumin-flavored chicken and veggies for fajitas, or even sweet and comforting oatmeal that is ripe for toppings of walnuts and fresh fruit.
We promise that you will feel great about not ordering the 8-piece nugget meal, again, for a pre-soccer meal. Not only that, your kids will also feel better, perform better and even behave better with whole, nourishing, muscle-and-brain-enhancing foods in their systems. Oh, and as a side note—we hope this means a few less cheeseburgers and sugary coffee drinks on your end, too. By starting a trend of home-cooking, healthy eating and more economical food choices, you’re ensuring that your family will continue to make good nutrition choices, too . . . even when they’re old enough to be taking their own kids to lacrosse practices and piano lessons.