Family Meal Strategies for Busy Times

May is Mothers month. Ironically, this time of year is extra busy for families with kids. Many families are saddled with extra busy schedules involving in sports, other extracurricular activities like prepping for year end exams. Moms (and Dads) can be pulled in multiple directions at once.

When extra tasks get added to life, something else must be taken out to keep harmony. Often times eating decent delicious dinners gets short changed for substandard snack suppers or worse.

Parents who prioritize eating well and exercising while also juggling busy kids schedules, often come up short when it comes to making time for healthy meals and actually sit down to eat them.

I can remember being a young Mom and making a great meal that no one had time to eat, because we had to leave for a commitment.

What is the easiest way to feed a busy family in a healthy manner?

Ordering a pizza once in a while is not terrible, but when it becomes the 80% instead of the 20% it can wreak havoc a families health.

Start with letting your family know that even though you are all very busy, eating for everyone’s best health is a high priority.

How can the chief cook in the family accomplish this when the needs of each family member are unique?

For example, consider the son who is just hitting his growth spurt. He comes home starving from his sports practice or game and needs to have significant calories with ample carbs, protein and fat to allow his muscle to recover, support his growing body, and get him through an evening of homework.

The daughter coming home from her swim practice, who has stopped growing, still needs replacement carbs, protein and fat, but not as much as her brother. Mom might have a different carb requirement altogether, especially if she exercises earlier in the day. Dad has his own nutrition requirements.

The solution is to start with the common denominator and keep weeknight meals super simple.

Everyone needs ample protein and veggies. These are the common denominators. Some family members will need more starchy carbs like active teenagers.

Make or purchase proteins, veggies and starches separately so that each family member can late their own food according to their needs. 

Everyone can follow this guide for protein and veggies: fill half their plate with veggies* and ¼ of it with protein.  

Beyond that, those who need starchy carbs can fill the last ¼ of  their plate with them.

Plan simply to cook or purchase enough proteins and veggies for weeknight meals so that everyone can fill their plates in that manner.  

Avoid complicated casseroles or combined dishes on weeknights. This serves several purposes:

  • It simplifies the choices for everyone.
  • It takes a minimal amount of prep planning and decision making.
  • It also cuts down on clean up time.

Click here to read about how you can make healthy meals in 20 minutes or less.

For protein examples, simply grill, roast or sauté chicken breasts or grab a rotisserie chicken. sauté enough ground beef, turkey, or shrimp for taco night. The starch is the tortilla.

Roast, sauté or stir-fry enough non-root veggies (exceptions are carrots and beets) for the gang, and maybe a little extra for lunch the next day. Have pre-washed salad greens and raw veggies also on hand to serve.

Make every night a buffet so that everyone can serve up what is right for them.

What about those starches?

Exactly what IS a starchy carb?  

Here is a simple definition that works amazingly well for busy people who don’t want to consult a spread sheet to make sure they are eating healthy.

Starchy carbs are roots, fruits and grainsand legumes.

Starches are commonly referred to as carbs and all starches are carbs, but not all carbs are starches.

Fruit is high in a special carb called fructose**, and to manage energy intake simply and effectively, fruit is best categorized with starches. This may be why many people who ‘think’ they are on low carb diets fail to see results if they are eating several servings of fruit daily.

Carbs in fruit are unique, and not friendly in fat loss diets if left unchecked.**

Grains include all flours cereals and pastas and breads. Legumes are 75% starch  (only 20-25% protein) and are best categorized as such.

Here is a quick review:  Everyone has the common denominator of protein and  veggies. Some family members need additional starches. Cook or purchase proteins, veggies and starches separately. Make a simple buffet and let everyone make their own plate.

Moms, please refrain from nagging family members about what is best for them.

This could get into food wars and trigger some nasty emotions for tired teens who may be struggling with body confidence. A more passive approach is to make just enough starches for those who will need them, and remind everyone to leave enough for others.

PS-Give thanks for being blessed with an active family, and good food!

*Layer a bed of leafy veggies on a plate, top it with some roasted or cooked veggies and finish it off with a protein and some dressing. Add starch for those who need it.  This could become a taco salad, a greek salad with chicken, a mediterrean sald with salmon or a steak salad. Yum!

** See this post about how fruit can sabotage your fat loss efforts.

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