Guest Author - Gretchen Goel
In today’s fast paced society many families rely on convenience foods and fast food restaurants to get through the week. Stay-at-home and working parents alike struggle to feed their children healthy meals whether they are going from activity to activity with kids or working long hours at the office. The end results are picky eaters, overweight kids, and/or a food budget that is completely out of control.
Eating healthy on a consistent basis is achievable but requires proper planning and differentiation between “treats” and food that nourishes the body. When we make a choice to be healthy, we need to make consistently healthy food choices. Sounds easy enough, but so many parents don’t understand that cereals, crackers, granola bars, and organic cookies are treats and not meant for every day snacking.
A weekly meal plan that includes wholesome snacks can help you to stay on track with healthy eating and avoid relying on costly snack foods or take out meals. It can also help you to get dinner ready quickly when you have a list of menus to choose from and you know you can put them together in 30 minutes or less on busy days.
First, plan on spending one hour a week to go through recipes and create 5 to 7 days worth of menus including Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and at least two snacks. Put the hour of meal planning on your schedule at the same time every week a day or two before your actual shopping day. Some great places to get those 30 minute meal type recipes online include:
Vegetarian: Fatfreevegan.com, VegWeb.com, Vegetariantimes.com
Non Vegetarian: Epicurious.com (1400+ low fat recipes), Eatingwell.com, Cleaneatingmag.com, Cookinglight.com
Second, get more fruits and vegetables in your family’s diet by making whole fruits and vegetables daily snacks instead of processed foods like crackers, chips or granola bars. Bananas, oranges, baby carrots, unsalted raw nuts, raw soy beans and pears require no preparation. These are the best snacks to have on hand at all times for those days when you don’t have time to cut up fruits and veggies.
Third, make plant foods the center of your diet. The more whole plant foods you consume, the better your family’s health will be and the less money you will spend on groceries. When we buy convenience foods and animal products for daily consumption we add up to $100/week extra onto our grocery bill. The idea is not that you have to go vegetarian, but to reduce the amount of meat, fish, cow’s milk, cheese, butter, etc. in your diet and increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables. Protein requirements for adults and children can easily be met with a plant based diet. In fact, the healthiest populations in the world consume very little animal protein. Check out T. Colin Campbell’s book- "The China Study" for a 20 year study on plant based diets around the world.
Lastly, when you get your produce home from the store, CSA or Produce Cooperative, make sure to store it properly and keep track of what’s in your refrigerator. Keep a list on a wipe off board on the front of your refrigerator and cross out items as they are used. Fresh produce can stay fresh only when properly stored and remembered. Otherwise it rots in the back of the refrigerator and our hard earned money is wasted.
Meal planning takes time and effort, but it is worth it to improve health and save money long term.