I had a request a while back when I thought I was going to start blogging regularly again. The request was for a post on snacks and meals for busy families that would be healthy instead of the usual grab-n-go fare.
There are several keys to maintaining nutrition while eating on the run.
First, preparation is important. Actually, I’d say, paramount. Without preparation, junk food and fast food will reign supreme and keep you from being as healthy as you want to be.
But you ask, “Wait, if I’m on the go, I have to grab what’s handy in the cupboard or at the drive-through.” Not if you prepare. If you know that you are generally on the go, then create snack bags for yourself and your family. When I say snack bags, I’m not talking about candy, cookies, or chips. I’m talking fresh fruit and veggies that you have already portioned out that you can take or baggies of dried fruit and nut mixes, cheese sticks, or crackers and peanut butter.
Then you say, “Not just snacks. What about meals? They require more time and prep.”
This leads me to the second key: have the tools on hand to help cut down your prep time and work. To which there are several tools and tricks that will help.
Owning a slow cooker or crock pot is one helpful tool to get a healthy meal on the table without too much fuss. The food goes in before you leave for work and is ready to serve when you get home, so you can feed yourself and your family then get to any extracurricular activity on time. And slow cooker meals can be portioned out in freezer bags so that all you have to do in the morning is dump it into the crock pot, but again this takes forethought and preparation. So take a day to experiment. Get the ingredients for the meals you want to make, portion into freezer bags enough for at least 4 servings, and freeze them. All the chopping, peeling, and cutting is done, then all you have to do is pull them out when you need them. Follow this link to get started experimenting with your crock pot.
Another handy tool is a rice cooker. Most only take about 10-15 minutes to cook rice or other grains, such as quinoa, so you can heat up some soup, beans, lentils, or meat of some kind to complement the rice and have a meal that way. And remember to get your greens, heat up some fresh, frozen, or canned veggie to go along with the meal.
As far as tricks, this plays into preparation. Store cut lettuce in a gallon sized storage back and then your toppings in plastic containers, so you can grab and build a salad in a minute or two. Also, if you like canned fruits and veggies, this cuts down on prep time and can still be nutritious. I, personally, prefer frozen or fresh produce to canned. Though, canned beans, tomatoes, and soups can still be found in my grocery cart.
The third key is to buy produce in-season (this will help those here in the USA: http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?id=Seasonalfoodguides) . This will save you money and adds to the level of nutrients that you’re actually getting. (Also, consider supporting your local farmers market as an option for getting your in-season produce.)
You say, “But fresh stuff is more expensive than the packaged stuff.” Generally, this is true, but when an item is in season it becomes much more economical to purchase. Take for example, citrus fruit. By mid-summer prices have gone so low that most stores offer multiples for a price (i.e. 10 for $1 on limes or 5 for $1 on lemons or 3 for $1 on oranges- all really good buys). Now, a word of caution, only buy what you will actually consume, so you aren’t wasting food or your money. Again, this takes some forethought. Plan your meals based on what you’d like to buy that’s in season.
Honestly, there’s no sure-fire way to make meals any quicker than 20-30 minutes and still keep them fresh and nutritious. But these are the things that I do when I know I’m gonna be on the go. Actually, I do the second and third regularly, not just when I’m in a rush. And there are plenty of books out there of people who have figured out their own tricks and solutions, like this one on Amazon.com.
Now, I realize I’ve been pretty general in this posting, but I did so with the intent of doing follow up articles with specific meal suggestions that are healthy and filling to get you where you need to go. Until next week, experiment with the preparation process and see what you can come up with that works for you and your family. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have a great week!