Dinner in Minutes, Better Health for Years

A few weeks ago, this working mom was feeling mighty relieved after reading a study that showed daycare can have a positive effect on a child’s academic development.

Then of course, a new study from the U.K. – outlining a link between working moms and childhood obesity – swooped in and knocked me off my high.

Although I try not to dwell on these studies, the U.K. study had me looking back at our meals over the past couple of weeks. My husband and I both strive to put healthy, homecooked dinners on the table at night. But sometimes I forget to defrost the chicken, or get home late because of traffic, or let’s be honest, am just too darned tired to cook, so we run through the fast food drive-through or order in Chinese.

To help our bodies as well as our wallets, we’ve been on a mission to eat at home more often. For help, I turned to Stephanie Margolis, RD, who works with BJC School Outreach & Youth Development as a curriculum specialist.

One important tip for cooking healthy, according to Margolis, is to prepare accordingly, including batch cooking on the weekends or planning a meal schedule.

“To be successful in the long term at creating quick, healthy meals for your family you must plan ahead!” she said via email. “I do this in my ‘Mommy Notes’ notebook. This is a small notebook I carry around in my purse and track expenses, Target lists, etc. I also have a meal planning section. It takes about 10 minutes of thought for me to look at my pantry, think about our family schedule and plot out our meals for the upcoming week. If you find this too overwhelming you could start by simply planning 3-4 days at a time. On one side I create my meals, on the other side I make my shopping list. I also have a paperclip which has two purposes... (1) to designate the section (2) hold recipes I come across and want to try within the next week.”

So far, we’re pretty good at the prep work. Sunday is my “fancy dinner” night so it’s no problem to cook extra helpings to freeze or to sauté chicken for tacos later in the week while dinner’s bubbling. Other days, since I’m a morning person, I’ll throw a casserole together during breakfast so my husband can just toss it in the oven when he gets home.

Other suggestions for simple cooking? “Don’t do it all from scratch,” remarked Margolis. “While in a perfect world fresh is best, we don’t live in a perfect world, so get the healthiest options with minimal effort. Choose items such as pre-cooked chicken (not frozen, but rotisserie), frozen vegetables (I like the Steamers bags) and pre-cut veggies.” She also recommends enlisting your family for help and using helpful gadgets like your crockpot and food processor.

Now, What to Cook?

Knowing how to get the food on the table is one thing. But knowing the right foods to choose is another. I wouldn’t mind eating crab Rangoon or spinach dip every night since they’re easy, and, well, gloriously delicious, but probably not the best for growing children – or my growing waistline.

When selecting recipes, “Think color!” said Margolis. “If you look at your plate and everything is beige, it’s not healthy.” Some quick and healthy options she suggested include:

  • Mexican fiesta: Bean burrito (tortilla, diced tomato, shredded cheese and refried beans) with a side salad.
  • Quick chick(en): Pre-made rotisserie chicken, whole grain rice or pasta, and steamed veggies.
  • Healthy pizza: take your favorite frozen thin crust pizza and top with a variety of vegetables (mushrooms, peppers, etc.) and cook as usual. Avoid toppings such as pepperoni which are higher in fat and calories.

Because variety is the spice of life, it’s important to add different options to your repertoire. I try to scour recipe websites before heading for my grocery store to find last-minute inspiration. Sites like Delish, Allrecipes, and Cooking Light are loaded with quick and healthy recipes – some using as few as five ingredients.

Cooking healthy can seem like a pain, but a bigger pain is the health problems a poor diet can lead to. With a little extra planning, some exciting new recipies and an open mind, your family can have healthy, delicious meals on the table in minutes and more time to spend together the rest of the night.

By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge has written for STL Parent for more than 12 years. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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