healthy meal prep tips

Healthy Meal Prep Tips for Busy Parents

By Elise Harlow, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When life gets busy, making homemade meals can fall to the bottom of your to-do list. Drive-through or take-out dinners may sound more appealing and time-friendly! While there is nothing wrong with the occasional fast-food meal, by cooking meals at home you can reduce the amount of added fat and sodium, and have control over the types of ingredients going into your family’s food.

To increase the amount of homemade meals you have on hand during busy times, meal planning and meal prepping can be your best friend. This can also be a great way to involve your kids in the kitchen and increase their interest in healthy foods.

Meal planning: this means taking one day out of the week to sit a down with a planner and plan out your meals for the upcoming week. After your meals are planned out, make a grocery list for all the ingredients you will need for the week.

Helpful tip: use leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day. For example, a roasted chicken for dinner can become a chicken salad sandwich for lunch the next day

How to involve your children: Let your children help you in planning meals by letting them choose what is for dinner one night a week. Maybe one day they can choose a meal that they know they like, and one day they get to pick a new food that they would like to try. You can even bring your children along with you to the grocery store to help pick up the ingredients needed for the week. Children tend to be more likely to try new foods when they have some sort of say in what they are eating.

Meal prepping: this means that once a week you pre-cook whatever meals from your meal plan that allow for this. For example,  roasting a chicken on Sunday and using the chicken in dishes for the rest of the week, or making lasagna on Sunday for dinner during the week, or portioning out yogurt and fruit in single-serving containers for easy grab-and-go breakfasts each day of the week.

How to involve your children: assign your children age-appropriate tasks that they can do on their own. Again, this will increase their interest in the food and could make them more likely to try new foods. Some ideas include scrubbing vegetables, counting ingredients, measuring, or mixing ingredients together.

A crock pot or slow-cooker can be your best friend during busy times. The beauty of a crock pot is that you can throw the ingredients in the crock pot in the morning on your way out the door to work and arrive home to a warm, homemade meal for you and your family. Looking for ideas? Below is a recipe for steel cut oats, that could even be cooked overnight, which means waking up to warm cooked breakfast!

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal

Recipe adapted from CookSmarts.com
Ingredients
2 cups steel cut oats
6 cups water

2 cups milk of any type
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 peeled apples
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Optional add ins: flax seed, chia seed, almonds, pecans, shredded coconut, hemp seeds, pepitas, etc.

Directions

  1. Spray the slow cooker with cooking oil or brush with cooking oil to prevent sticking.
  2. Put all ingredients into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
  3. Top with optional add-ins of your choice.

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