Getting healthy is a common New Year’s resolution for many families. There is something about the fresh start of a new year that makes people want to eat right, exercise and cut back on indulgences. But come February, motivations start to wane. So how do you survive those eleven other months? The prospect is daunting, but healthy cooking is possible!
It’s true, eating healthy doesn’t always have to be difficult. With a bit of planning and a few simple changes, you can easily set your family up with delicious, healthful food all year long. Read on for eight fresh tips for cooking healthy meals in 2016.
Make a Meal Plan
Seems so simple, right? But this one step can have a significant impact on whether or not you eat healthy. If your meals aren’t planned in advance, it’s easy to get caught up in the day and forget about dinner. The next thing you know it’s 5:00 pm and you’re left with hungry kids and no available options for a quick meal except delivery pizza. By taking 15 to 20 minutes on Sunday night to plan out your dinners for the week ahead, you’re setting yourself up for success. You eliminate the “What should we have for dinner tonight?” struggle and are left to simply execute the plan.
Eat at Home
Meals enjoyed out at a restaurant are almost always less healthy than a home-cooked meal. Why? Well, think about it…Portion sizes at a restaurant are bigger. Lots of food choices, especially on kids’ menus, are fried. You don’t know the source of all the ingredients that go into making the dish taste so yummy. Restaurants are a veritable landmine of things that can sabotage your desire to eat healthy. So if you’re faced with a choice, just stay home. You’ll save both money and your waistline.
Prep Healthy Snacks
Fresh fruits and vegetables are one of the healthiest snacks to munch on. The problem? They are not as easily accessible as grabbing a bag of chips from the pantry. The solution is simple. Whenever you find yourself with a few spare minutes, take out some carrots, celery, or peppers and cut them up into strips. Store them in baggies or containers in the fridge and you’ll have yummy, healthy snacks at the ready. My husband takes carrot sticks as part of his lunch every day, so at the beginning of each week I peel and cut up a pound of carrots. Half I cut into carrot sticks and the other half I cut into circles to be steamed for a dinner side.
Utilize Time-Saving Gadgets
Whether you stay at home or you’re at work all day, you’re busy. We all are. Thankfully, there are tons of kitchen gadgets that make cooking healthfully a little bit easier. I use my rice cooker at least twice a week. Put the rice and some water in it, press a button, and boom! You have perfectly cooked rice without standing by the stove and stirring it constantly. You can even set it on a timer so it’s ready when you pull in the driveway from work. A slow-cooker is a great time-saver too — throw some chicken breasts in it at breakfast time and they’ll be ready to eat by dinner. You can use the chicken to add to quesadillas, soup or a pasta dish.
Choose Local Ingredients
One of the biggest problems with processed food is all the additives and preservatives required for the food to travel hundreds of miles to your kitchen table and/or stay “fresh” for months in your pantry. That’s why the closer you can get to achieving farm to table, the better. But just because you can’t grow your own fruits and veggies during the winter, doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Check out your nearest farmer’s market for produce, meat and bread options. You’ll be supporting the local economy to boot!
Switch your Beverage Choices
One of the easiest ways to cut calories is to replace your normal drinks with water or seltzer. Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, drinking more water each day will keep your skin hydrated and your organs healthier. Being properly hydrated also reduces fatigue and helps you sleep better. So skip the sugary drinks and offer your family water or milk instead.
Eating healthy doesn’t always have to be difficult and time-consuming. We are fortunate to live at a time when shortcuts such as steamable bags of vegetables and pre-washed salads are readily available. After seeing how easy they are to prepare, I am a huge fan of steamable veggies. Pop them in the microwave for five minutes, dump them in a bowl with a pat of butter and some seasonings, and serve. Same with pre-washed, pre-cut salads. Why spend time chopping lettuce when you don’t have to?
Disguise the Healthy Stuff
If all else fails, smoothies can be a great backup option. They’re the perfect place to hide a bunch of fruits and veggies that your family will otherwise not eat. Smoothies are great because they are so customizable. Start with a base of plain, whole-milk yogurt, along with milk or orange juice. Then add a banana, some frozen berries, and a few clumps of frozen spinach leaves. You can experiment with different recipes that incorporate your family’s favorite fruits and vegetables. My kids slurp them up and have no idea they just ingested a day’s worth of healthy food in one glass. Smoothies also make for an easy breakfast on-the-go.
Looking to step up your kitchen game? Click Here to see Best of NJ’s Top Recipes & Kitchen Tips!