Make a date.
Research shows that eating dinner as a family benefits kids in big ways -- from their health to their education -- so planning family meals should be a regular, standing arrangement. "Make family meal time a priority. Start with a few family dinners a week and build up to one to two meals together daily," says Juliet Zuercher, R.D., nutrition coordinator at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center in suburban Chicago.
Simple shortcuts for family meals >>
Busy families know that making dinner can be a hard and stressful task for one person -- so make it a family affair.
"The best healthy eating habit for busy families is cooking dinner together. If families have time to watch TV and/or work on a computer together, then they have time to cook dinner together. It's just a matter of prioritizing," says registered dietitian Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D. "By taking the time to cook together, you are teaching your children the importance of sitting around the dinner table together, as well as skills they will use to eat healthfully for a lifetime."
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Have a healthy snack stash.
When you are on the go and hungry, you naturally reach for whatever is quick and easy. That's why single-serving bags of chips, cookies and the like are so popular. A healthier alternative: Make your own to-go snacks using a little time and a couple of resealable plastic bags. "Some veggies, fruits and nuts that are both healthy and convenient to use are baby carrots, grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, grapes, apple slices and almonds," says Brooke Worley, M.S, an account representative for MyFoodDiary.com. "Sorting and packing these items on Sunday nights makes for a less-stressed week."
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Plan for proteins, too.
Along with your healthy snacks, have a selection of precooked proteins ready to go. "Make sure you have adequate sources of low-fat protein in the refrigerator that can be added to any type of carbohydrate. Make meals in advance on the weekends and then freeze or refrigerate," says Mary Perry, a registered dietitian and researcher serving as clinical trials director for Zone Labs Inc.
Shop the farmers market.
"Here, you can get fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables for lower costs than in the grocery stores -- sometimes even half the price. Smaller, local farmers use less chemicals and pesticides on their produce than larger farms that supply grocery stores," says Christina K. Major, M.S., N.D., a holistic nutritionist and naturopathic doctor.
More tips for healthy meals
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5 Easy (but healthy!) family meal ideas