Preparing and eating meals at home is an important step toward eating healthy. Too many of us eat out in restaurants and on the go more than we should. We know that when we eat out we usually eat larger portion sizes; more calories, fat, and sugar; fewer fruits and vegetables; fewer whole grains; and fewer low-fat dairy products.
Meals you prepare and eat at home don’t have to be fancy, and they don’t have to take a lot of time. Preparing a simple meal at home takes about as much time as driving to a fast food restaurant or ordering a pizza.
To have easy, quick and nutritious meals at home, follow these four steps: Plan, Shop, Fix and Eat.
Planning is the most important step in being successful at meal time. Start by making a list of what your family enjoys eating. Use this list when planning meals for the week. If you try a new recipe that your family likes, make sure to add it to the list. Use grocery ads to help plan and save money. Choose recipes with few ingredients to shorten preparation time. Post the menu on the refrigerator for the week and stick to it. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like the meal you have planned for that evening; trade for another night’s meal that sounds better. One of the main reasons people say they can’t eat healthy is lack of time. If you plan meals each week or plan for the entire month, you will save time and money in the long run.
Shop regularly, whether once a week or once a month. Make a list and stick to it. This saves time, gas, and money because you are less likely to overspend and you won’t run back and forth to the store for items you forgot. Remember that buying fruits and vegetables in-season are less expensive and usually taste better. The farmers market will be opening in a few weeks, and it is a great place to buy local fruits and vegetables. Children can help shop, too, and when they are allowed to choose new foods, they are more likely to try them.
To save time, wash and prepare fruits and vegetables in advance. It is one less thing to do when you are ready to fix the meal. If there aren’t many fruits and vegetables in season, add your favorite canned or frozen variety to any meal. Try to choose vegetables that are no salt added and fruit that is packed in 100 percent juice. If it is easy to double the recipe of a main dish, do so and freeze the second batch for a quick go to meal on a hectic evening. Remember, children love to help out, so give them age-appropriate jobs like setting the table, tearing lettuce for a salad, or filling the drink glasses. The extra help is nice and it gives you an opportunity to talk about their day. Also, remember to look ahead at the next night’s menu and set out anything in to the refrigerator that may need to be thawed.
Eating together as a family is so important and should be a priority in your household. Adults are important role models for kids and can influence their eating habits. As you sit down to eat, remember to turn off distractions like the TV, radio, and cellphone so that you can enjoy the conversation. When you prepare meals at home and follow the four easy steps of plan, shop, fix, and eat, you will save money, eat healthier, and be able to spend more time with your family.
Nickels is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Garfield County.