Eating healthy is a challenge when you’re busy. It’s especially hard when you are juggling the nutritional needs of your whole family. Preparation is half the battle. We’re six people in our family, so over the years I have developed helpful habits to ensure that we all have healthy options for meals and snacks.
Guide to Eating Healthy
Planning Your Meals
- Start by making a list of meals you enjoy. This list can become your template for selecting a weekly menu. It will work best if you ask all your family members for their input. Try to select meals according to taste, nutritional value and diversity. The more varied your diet, the greater the health benefits. Write the list in order of convenience, so that meals requiring shorter prep time and more easily obtained ingredients go at the top of the list.
- At the end of each week, select at least 5 meals from the list. I usually start on Sunday. I decide what we will eat for the next 5 dinners. I run it by everyone and then I make a plan.
- Start your grocery list. Write down all the ingredients you will need to purchase for these meals.
- Plan your vegetables and fruits. Once you’ve focused on the main dish, you can move on to the vegetables and fruits. We usually keep certain vegetable staples on hand: carrots, onions, parsley, cucumbers, tomatoes and bell peppers. Any items that we’re running low on get added to the grocery list. I also pencil in any other vegetable that I want to use for a side dish or snack in the first half of the week.
- Add any condiments, dried herbs or pantry staples to the list. End your list with these non-perishable or dried-good items.
Following this order not only helps with efficient meal planning, but also organizes your list in a way that makes it easy to shop at the grocery store.
- One Rule. I only have one rule at the grocery store: keep to the list. I don’t deviate, unless I substitute one ingredient for another. This ensures that you don’t go over your budget and that you don’t waste food.
Putting Away and Prepping Your Food for the Week
- Perishables: divide and conquer. Divide your perishables into bags or containers as soon as you get back from the store. Measure, weigh or eye-ball according to the recipes you will making. Refrigerate or freeze depending on each item’s expiration date and when you’re planning to use it. Label everything with name, date and recipe to make it easy to find when the time comes.
- Vegetables and fruits. Wash, prep and refrigerate any vegetables or fruits you’ll need in the next two days. I like to keep a container of cut-up cucumbers, bell peppers and carrots in our refrigerator for a quick snack. If you bought leafy greens and are planning to use them in the next couple days, wash and dry them thoroughly. Place the prepared leaves in a bag and keep it ready for your next meal.
- Put away pantry items. Organize your pantry with the most commonly used items in front, then group food items into categories (e.g. grains together, canned beans, or baking goods) We spend so much time looking for items hiding somewhere in our pantry, the simpler you make it for yourself the better. To help everyone in the family put things back where they belong, consider labeling shelves and containers.
Other Helpful Tips for Cooking Healthy Meals During a Busy Week
- Make a plan for who is supposed to cook what on each day. Make sure that everyone in your family is on board and knows where all the ingredients are.
- Start preparing some of the meals on your day off. I like to make a dish or two on my days off. It’s more fun when you enlist the help of another family member, so involve your partner or your kids. Delegate tasks.
- Prepare foods that can stay good in refrigerator for several days. Prepare salads that keep for several days, such as cabbage salad, kale salad or carrot salad.
- Double your recipes. Leftovers are the best for packed lunches. Plan ahead and double all your recipes.
- Plan your meals after breakfast. If you want to make healthy choices, plan your meals when you’re rested and your stomach is full. After breakfast on the weekend is an ideal time.
- Control impulse buys. Don’t grocery shop when you’re tired or hungry. Impulse control is not a question of willpower as much as brain power. If you’re tired and hungry, your brain doesn’t function efficiently, making it likely that you will deviate from your list.
I hope these tips help you reach your nutritional goals. It’s always best to make changes slowly, so try one or two ideas at a time and see what works for you and your family. By applying some organizational principles to meal planning, we ensure that we and our loved-ones will develop healthy habits, avoid process foods and eat a diet rich in nutritious ingredients.
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