As summer slowly fades away, many Hoosier families are looking for ways to navigate the chaos that comes with afterschool activities and managing schedules and routines. In the midst of carpools and soccer cleats, taking time to plan healthy family meals can often be overwhelming. But with the right plan in place, eating healthy can be easy and fun for the whole family!
“Dedicating a bit of time to planning healthy meals not only reduces stress later in the week, but it ensures that the entire family is eating well-balanced meals throughout the week,” said Dr. Saura Fortin, a member of the American Heart Association’s Indianapolis board of directors.
The American Heart Association recommends healthy children follow a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy sources of protein. Each meal should include at least 1 fruit or vegetable and should include foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
Here are 6 ways to make healthy family meal prep easy:
- Use the weekend to plan your meals
Every good idea starts with a plan. Use the weekend to plan your meals and get input from your kids on what recipes they might like to eat that week. Letting your kids be a part of the planning process can empower them to make healthy choices on their own. You can find an array of healthy recipes on heart.org.
- Organize your shopping list
After you create your meal plan, organize your shopping list based on categories. For example, produce, aisle, dairy, and meat. This makes shopping easier when trying to find items for new recipes.
- Double the recipe
There can be a lot of prep work involved in some recipes, so make it count. Making twice as much doesn’t usually take twice the time. Make a double batch and save one for another meal, especially if it’s a family favorite.
- Make friends with your freezer
Many foods freeze well — think soups, stews, chili — and make an easy meal on busy nights. Store in single-meal quantities (say, four servings) in an air-tight container. Make sure it’s cooled thoroughly in the fridge before putting it in the freezer. When you’re ready to serve, simply reheat and enjoy a healthy homemade meal.
- Prep your veggies as soon as you get home from the grocery store
Slicing and dicing veggies can be a daunting task after a long day of work and school activities. Prepping your veggies in advanced can help cut down total cook time during the week.
- Put your plan on display
Place your weekly meal plan on your refrigerator or somewhere visible. This will help remind you of any items that need to be thawed in the morning and helps eliminate the ever so popular “what’s for dinner” question.
While eating healthy offers a variety of positive health benefits, research also shows that eating together as a family can be beneficial as well. In fact, eating together with your family for about 20 minutes only three to five times a week is all it takes see positive benefits including, fewer behavior problems, stronger vocabulary and more academic successes.
If you are looking for more ways to be healthy at home, the American Heart Association offers school programs to bring expanded curriculum resources to classrooms; rooted in proven science which has shown that kids who are regularly active have a better chance of a healthy adulthood. The Kids Heart Challenge for elementary schools offers physical activations to get students’ hearts pumping such as jumping rope, practicing basketball skills, dancing or completing an obstacle course. The American Heart Challenge is a complementary program tailored to middle and high school students.
Parents and schools in Indiana who are interested in bringing the American Heart Association’s in-school programs to their children should visit www.heart.org/getstarted.