Many families today are so busy with work, school, kids’ activities, housework, yard work, laundry, and socializing. Because of this, Americans spend less and less time preparing their food. Research shows the average working woman spends only five hours a week preparing food. Preparing the meals recommended by the USDA requires 9-16 hours per week. If someone only spends five hours a weeks preparing food, it’s unlikely that nutritious meals are being prepared.
In fact, 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes toward processed foods because they are convenient and affordable, even though most Americans know that high-calorie junk foods lack in nutrition. But what is the real cost of this paradigm long-term? Americans spend less on food than many other developed nations but pay the price in fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, obesity, and other diseases.
If you are ready to take charge of your family’s health, one step you can take is to make more of your own meals with healthy, real, whole foods. Here are some tips to help you make time for healthy meals at home:
1. Make Healthy Food a Priority
No matter how busy you are, I’m guessing you still find time for some recreational activities for yourself. These activities may take the form of catching up on your favorite shows on DVR, surfing the internet, going to movies or watching them at home, shoe shopping, eating out, etc. In addition to these activities taking time they also cost money. Many people keep up with current trends in electronics, clothes, shoes, houses, toys, and gadgets, which also cost money.
If you are interested in the many benefits of eating healthy home-cooked meals, try spending some of this free time and extra money on healthy food. Make healthy food a priority in your life.
Here are a few things you can do instead of watching TV or while you are watching TV, especially if you have a TV in your kitchen:
- Plan your weekly menu.
- Prepare parts of a meal in advance.
- Prepare veggies in advance. (Wash the head of lettuce, peel and cut carrots, etc.)
- Make entire meals ahead of time and freeze.
- Get lunches ready the night before to help with crazy mornings. It’s better than eating out or school lunches.
- Search for new, quick, healthy recipes.
Consider cutting all TV out of your life (*gasp*) or at least limit TV to one or two shows. It really is a time hog. Take a look at how you spend the time in your days. Take a look at how you spend your money. What you spend time and money on is your priority. Isn’t it better to make healthy food a priority?
2. Plan Meals Ahead of Time
Menu planning is another essential aspect to ensuring home-cooked meals happen. I suggest planning meals for one week at a time and then shopping for those meals. Following this model saves you time because you only have to grocery shop once a week; no running to the store in the middle of the week to pick up this or that. And since you know exactly what you are having on any given night of the week, following this model saves you money from last-minute decisions to go out to eat.
I could probably write an entire article on menu planning tips alone (in fact, I think I will). Until then, here are a few key tips for meal planning:
- Plan ahead for all meals: Plan for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners. Keep in mind any special occasions such as picnics or get-togethers with friends, extra food you may be making (for treats at school or for a friend who had a baby), or days you won’t need a meal (when you want to eat out or go to someone’s house). Don’t forget beverages, too. It’s no fun to have to make a special trip for a bottle of wine when it could have been on your list in the first place.
- Organize your recipes: I like to keep our favorite recipes in a small recipe box. If I find one we love in a cook book, I will copy it to an index card and add it to the recipe box. The recipe box contains dividers for our meal types: vegetarian, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, etc. I also have a tab in the front for “this week’s meals”. That’s where I put the recipes once I’ve decided they are in this cycle.
3. Learn to Love Leftovers
In fact, plan your meals so they create leftovers. Leftovers=easy preparation the next day. If you don’t like leftovers, get over it! This is one of the easiest ways to save time in the kitchen, which in turn creates time for YOU. A lasagna or hot dish is usually three meals for our family. In that case, sometimes we will eat our meal the first night and then package the leftovers into two containers; one for the refrigerator for the following night and the other for the freezer for the future. Or we will just eat it for three nights in a row. Easy.
Oh, and we only reheat meals using pots and pans on the stove top or in the oven; we do not use a microwave at all (and neither should you, but that’s another article.)
4. Have Staple Meal Supplies on Hand
To avoid the common question that can appear at the end of the day, “What am I going to make for supper?” it is a good idea to always have on hand a few staple supplies for some of your family’s favorite healthy (and quick) meals. If you plan your meals for the week (see number 2 above) you should rarely encounter this situation. But things happen and if you have a backup plan like this, so to speak, you can avoid ordering pizza (again) or going out to eat (again) and can feel good about saving money and eating healthy.
One of our staple meals is risotto with asparagus, so I always have those ingredients on hand. Spaghetti is another easy one.
5. Make it Simple
No, I do not mean resorting to boxed or microwavable meals; even though those may be quick, they are definitely not healthy. I am talking about other ways to keep your home cooked meals simple:
- There is no need to make seven-course meals every night. As long as the meal contains basic healthy components like vegetables and protein, you are good!
- Keeping the ingredient list simple. I usually cringe when I see really long ingredient lists for recipes. Those meals can be nice for occasional meals or for when you have more time. You can always adapt a recipe for the amount of time you have.
6. Change Your Attitude About Food
Instead of thinking of food as a chore and therefore wanting to spend the least amount of thought, energy, time, and love in preparing it, try thinking of food as fuel for living. That’s what it is, after all. Bodies want and need the best ingredients to fuel its many processes. Fast food, restaurant food, boxed food, packaged food, junk food, and snack food are not what your body wants and needs.
You wouldn’t put water into your car’s gas tank just because it’s a liquid, cheap, and can fill up the tank, would you?
- Think about the effects that advertising and the food industries have on how we think about food and how we eat. Faster, cheaper, and more is not always better.
- Start thinking about why you should eat: sustenance (instead of boredom, socializing, pleasure). Then think about what foods provide the best sustenance/fuel: real, whole foods. Then start making it yourself.
Approach meal preparation with a new attitude of love, nourishment, and health. This is one of the most important points to understand for healthy eating.
- How to Cook Whole Food from Scratch – and Keep Your Day Job! on Mercola.com
- It’s Time for a New Relationship with Food on ZenHabits.net
Wendy – ParentingTips365.com