Work Wonders This Week: Wellness cooking tips for working parents

If you're a working parent like me, you know the time crunch of eating healthy during the week. Breakfasts are rushed, snacks are on-the-go, and by dinnertime everyone’s getting tired and they're STARVING! But don’t give up just yet! It's a new year and a good time to start new habits. Here are some of my favorite time-saving tips to help you provide healthy foods your kids will love, even during the work week. Yes, really!

Simple Time Savers

The trick to saving time and stress and eating healthy is to plan ahead. I plan for the week over the weekend! I'm not sure everyone is like this, but it stresses me out when I have to decide what's for dinner after a long day of work. To avoid this unnecessary stress, I make the meal planning fun and include the kids—they get to provide input on breakfast and lunch and each choose dinner one night. One awesome result of including them is they often want to help me do the meal preparation. This gives us special bonding time, gets them excited to eat AND helps me save time! Planning ahead also saves money on ingredients by buying them together in bulk, or by planning meals around what I already have in my pantry. Additional tips I take into consideration:

  • I make my salad dressings on Sunday. I find when I have the salad dressing prepared in advance – this week I made a Dijon vinaigrette (yum!!) – we always have salad.
  • Make sauce in advance. It's much easier to put a dinner together if you only have to do assembly vs. making everything.
  • Hearty soups/healthy chili are huge time savers and great ways to use up vegetables that may go bad. Put them in a soup and then blend them to make the soup smooth. Last week, I made cauliflower soup and a butternut squash soup—packed with superfoods (delish!).
  • Use frozen vegetables. This saves you the “chopping time,” and they contain the same nutrients and can even be purchased in medley mixes. When I find butternut squash frozen on sale, I stock up!
  • Dig out your Crock Pot and make it work for you. I love knowing dinner is being cooked while I'm at work and then coming home to the delicious aroma of a meal that's all ready to be eaten! Find some great healthy recipes here.
  • Roast a large chicken (or meat of choice) with lots of fresh veggies on Sunday. This provides leftover meat for the weekly meals and veggies for a blended soup; AND my favorite tip is to slow cook the carcass for an amazing soup!

Snack Well

With two growing boys and a busy lifestyle, healthy snacks are very important to me. Fresh fruits and raw veggies are quick and easy, and we often reach for those. But active kids – and parents – get really hungry. On the weekend, I love to make energy bursts with nuts, seeds and dried fruit. They’re packed with protein and healthy fats, and are an excellent way to curb our appetites and give a burst of energy sometimes needed before a sporting event or an important meeting or presentation. I always have them at soccer or basketball practice for the boys. Basically, I always have them available. They're one of my favorite snacks and ultra delicious!

Plus, there are many energy burst varieties. Try these recipes to find the one you like best. Making these together can be a great healthy family activity, and even a bit of a science project. Kids can help choose the ingredients and then test the results to see what combo produces the best flavor and texture. My boys love them!

Take it Easy

Remember you don’t have to change everything overnight. Just make one modification at a time, and when that one is really part of your routine, move on to the next. And start small so you don’t feel overwhelmed. For example, this week you could make it your goal to: 

  • Add an extra serving of veggies at dinner. 
  • Make a healthy substitution in your regular lineup: fresh fruit for fruit snacks, oatmeal for dry cereal, energy bursts for packaged snacks.
  • Prepare a salad dressing or sauce in advance. 

Most important, make healthy eating fun! Aaron and I have found we can live healthy, teach our boys wellness habits, and maintain busy professional lives as long as we keep food prep simple, involve the whole family, and make it fun.

What tips do you have for busy parents for cooking healthy meals? Let us know by tweeting your thoughts about the experience to @Sunlighten or by posting a comment on our Facebook page!

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