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Healthy eating habits for busy families


School’s in, and that means that the lazy, relaxed days of summer are gone. Families are busy with extracurricular activities, homework, work and more. Here’s how to eat well in spite of the craziness.

Mom and son at farmers market

Have a plan

“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” — Ben Franklin

He may have been referring to the battlefield, but the same rule applies when it comes to healthy eating. Jessica Lehmann — dietitian, nutritionist and faculty member at the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University — recommends planning ahead and creating a healthy menu of meals and snacks for the week. Stock the refrigerator and pantry with healthy ingredients and cook meals in advance if you’re able. A mother of three, Lehmann preps brown rice and green smoothies in large batches and freezes them in small, easily thawed units.

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.

How to make family dinner fun >>

Cook together

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 [and teaching them] skills they will use to eat healthfully for a lifetime.”

How to involve your kids in making dinner >>

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 is making 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 “Sorting and packing these items on Sunday nights makes for a less stressed week.”

Simple, healthy snacks for moms >>

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.

Eat breakfast

Morning is often the most hectic time of the day. Don’t let that stop you from feeding the kids (and yourself!) a healthy breakfast. LifestyIe and wellness consultant Jasmine Jafferali, MPH, ACE-CPT, says kids who eat a balanced breakfast of protein, fiber and complex carbs are likely to maintain a healthy weight, do better in school and meet their daily nutritional needs.

Shop at the farmers market

“Here, you can get fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables at lower costs than in the grocery stores — sometimes for even half the price. Smaller, local farmers use fewer chemicals and pesticides on their produce than do larger farms that supply grocery stores,” says Christina K. Major, M.S., N.D., a holistic nutritionist and naturopathic doctor.

Expert tip:

Have a picky eater? Dietitian-nutritionist Jessica Lehmann recommends the book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense (Amazon, $17).

More tips for healthy meals

Healthy meal planning on a budget
5 Simple, healthy food swaps
5 Easy (but healthy!) family meal ideas

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