I know I'm not alone in wanting to prepare quick and healthy meals for my family. It's probably one of the topics that my friends and I talk about most. I have found it so helpful to hear how others manage to squeeze healthy meal prep into an already packed schedule, so I want to share with you all that I have learned over the years. Of course, no one is perfect, so do your best and strive for the healthiest meals for your kids. Don't feel bad on nights when everyone gets a bowl of cereal; just make it a whole grain choice!
Slow Cooking for Fast Meals
Is it strange to have affection for a kitchen appliance? If so, then I am absolutely guilty because I just adore my crock pot. I have tried several brands and sizes and they are all wonderful. I love being able to throw a few ingredients in the crock pot early in the day and by dinnertime, I am rewarded with a healthy delicious meal.
The kids and I all love soups and the crock pot is perfect for a wide variety of soups. You can take your favorite stove top recipe and adapt it to work in the crock pot, or make up a new one. Add an onion, carrots, celery and broth and you have the perfect base to build on. I like to use rinsed canned beans, canned tomatoes and frozen vegetables when I'm making a soup. As it gets close to dinner time, I'll usually throw in a handful or two of dried pasta to round out the meal.
We all really look forward to baked potato bar night and it's so easy when you make the potatoes in the crock pot! Simply wash russet potatoes, put them dripping wet into the crock, poke some holes and let them cook for 4 hours on high. Perfect baked potatoes every time! There's no need to mess with foil or oil or anything at all; just wash stab and cook. I'll serve the potatoes with a bag of frozen broccoli, jarred salsa, prepared guacamole and anything else the kids fancy that night. So yummy and easy!
Blend Those Fruits and Veggies
One of the quickest and easiest ways that I have found to get ample fruits and veggies into my kids is by making smoothies. My boys have loved just about every smoothie attempt I have tried, and it has actually made them excited to try new things because it seems like more fun when it's in smoothie form. I love the fact that I can sneak vegetables into their smoothies without them even knowing.
The sky really is the limit when it comes to flavor combinations, but this Cherry Limeade smoothie is a regular favorite at our house. I like to add in a handful of spinach and use reduced sugar almond milk when I make it, and we all love it! I've found that when I start our day with a smoothie, I just feel better knowing that we've all already had several servings of fruits and vegetables and everyone is happy to drink them.
Let the Grocery Store Help You
It may seem like taking the easy way out, but I promise you, the grocery store has made things so much easier for you to get healthy meals on the table in a quick and stress-free fashion. It's not always in my budget to pay the added fee, but I make sure to subscribe to my local grocery store's email newsletter so I can see when they are running specials on online shopping or home delivery. There have definitely been times when spending the extra $10 is worth it to me to have the grocery shopping done for me.
I also really love that I can find so many pre-cut vegetables and fruits in the produce section. From washed salad greens to diced butternut squash to peeled and cored pineapples, I love the convenience of these items and it makes me more likely to actually buy and serve them.
I Heart Meal Plans!
Meal planning has been the number one key to my success in getting healthy meals on the table quickly and easily. I'll be honest, it can be a pain to sit down and write out my planned meals for the week, but I am always happy that I took that time to do it. I enjoy planning week by week, but some friends of mine like to plan for an entire month at a time.
Having an attractive meal plan can help you stick to it; I love the free printables on this blog. Seeing my meals all laid out in front of me helps me to notice if I'm missing a certain nutrient or need to cut back on another. The kids also love to look at the meal plan (I keep it on the fridge) and see what's for dinner.
My Boring Grocery List
When I say "My Boring Grocery List" I mean that in the nicest way possible. All I'm trying to say is that my grocery list looks pretty much the same every week. It's so unchanging, in fact, that I typed it up on my computer and print out the same list from week to week. I simply cross out what I don't need and pencil in anything that strays from my normal purchases. Keeping things simple and streamlined helps me to get in and out of the store quickly and ensures that I'm making healthy choices.
Planning Ahead: The Freezer is Your Friend
Many of the meals that I make are able to be frozen and reheated successfully. Vegetable soup, bean chili, roasted vegetable lasagna and my famous veggie pot pie all freeze beautifully. I make sure that when I am making any of these meals for lunch or dinner, to make a double batch and freeze the second. It does require a little planning to remember to take the casserole dish or container out of the freezer to thaw in time, but that's where meal planning really shines. When I can easily see in front of me that we're having chili on Wednesday, I know to take it out of the freezer and pop it in the fridge a day or two before.
Once I put all of these tips into practice, it took a few weeks until it felt like second nature. My boys are good eaters, so they've been troopers as I've tried new ingredients and recipes. Give yourself a pat on the back for wanting to find ways to feed your kids healthy and delicious meals without spending the whole day in the kitchen. It is absolutely possible and I hope that my tips help get you on the right track. Please feel free to comment and let me know if you find a great new recipe or have a tip for me that I haven't listed here.