How to Get a Healthy Meal on the Table When You Are a Busy Parent

By: Susan Joy

Most of us are eager to have our family eat healthily but occasionally we may stumble. We become time poor or maybe you just never have the right ingredients for a healthy recipe you want to make.

Maybe you simply didn’t even know where to begin and became a little overwhelmed by the idea of making everything from scratch. I totally understand, I’ve been there. Although, I do believe that eating a clean wholefood diet should be as easy as possible and I’m hoping I can take away some of the frustration of not knowing what to cook by giving you some ideas and tips for quick nutritious meals.

Life happens, so it’s good to have a plan. Getting home late while ravenous can spoil all your good intentions. Again, it comes down to planning. I find it’s a good idea to have at least 3 emergency quick meal ideas that you can have on the table within 15 minutes. Post these ideas inside your pantry door to make sure you have these ingredients stocked in the house at all times. It could be as simple as: Scrambled eggs, sautéed spinach and mushrooms. Keep an emergency protein in the fridge like cold cooked chicken, a can of tuna or salmon, hard-boiled eggs and add your protein on top of a quick salad. I usually bake extra sweet potato and keep some to add to salads to make them more substantial. Also at the beginning of the week, it’s good to have your vegetables chopped in containers in the fridge ready to pop in a saucepan to steam and go with your protein for dinner. Preparation is key.

Your meals just need to contain protein, vegetables (your carbohydrate) and healthy fats and you have all your macronutrients covered. There’s nothing wrong with just popping some chops, steak, fish or chicken in a fry pan with some salt, pepper and spices (your protein). Ensure you have your prepared chopped vegetables in containers in the fridge (your carbs with lots of fibre). Drizzle a little cold-pressed olive oil over your vegetables (or have a large salad in the fridge to use for a couple of days) or add some avocado for your healthy fat. Keep fancier meals for weekends or when guests are invited.

My biggest principle for preparing nutrient-rich meals and snacks that won’t keep me a slave to the kitchen is to double or triple recipes. I also freeze some for another meal and place the remainder in the fridge for lunches. Then if you have doubled salads and trays of roasted vegetables you are set.

You might have fussy kids that don’t eat their vegetables. There’s nothing wrong with disguising hidden vegetables in a meal so you can get more vegetables into your family. Children’s taste palates may not have matured yet and are more sensitive than ours. Our job as parents is to nourish their growing bodies with nutrient-dense food to help them grow strong bones and muscles, and healthy functioning brains for learning and development. It’s our responsibility, not theirs until they are 18 (if possible). Bolognese is perfect for this, I add grated carrot and zucchini, finely diced celery and onion, plus minced garlic to my meat sauce (I like to serve over sweet potato noodles). I also add grated zucchini into my Chilli Beef (my grandkids don’t seem to notice it). So you don’t need to make excuses that your kids won’t eat healthy any longer when you can get creative and disguise veggies in particular meals.

a plate of bolognnaiseFamily meals can be chaotic but also wonderful. Encourage your family to cook together. If you encourage your kids to be more involved in cooking it may help them change their mind about trying the food. If they cooked it or played a part in growing it in the garden they are far more likely to eat it.

Why not try swapping the way you serve your dinner. If you find your kids shun their vegetables on their plate or don’t like trying different flavours then place each food in a different bowl with a serving spoon and pop them down the centre of your table. Let your kids serve themselves but the rule is they must take something from each bowl even if it’s the tiniest spoonful to taste. To have a bit of fun at the table, stick some toothpicks into pieces of chicken or other meat (my 3 year old grandson loves it when I make mini meatballs and pop toothpicks in them). You could also make a dip with a vegetable base and put a bowl of carrot and cucumber sticks next to it (no crackers) and let them dip in. Try my roasted carrot dip/hummus.

Keep this in mind: With each of the dinners, include a colourful salad, steamed or roasted vegetables or a combination. A typical healthy meal plate should consist of 2/3 vegetables and salad, 1/3 protein (meat, fish or eggs) and include some healthy fats (like avocado, nuts and seeds or olive oil as a dressing for your vegetables and salad).

Time Saving Meal Ideas:

On weekends cook double or triple batches of a couple of meals, something like: Bolognese, chilli beef, soups, baked chicken or Shepherds pie. Freeze a batch for later that can be taken out the night before it’s required and placed in the fridge

When making Chilli beef or chicken it can be served with cauliflower rice (you can purchase frozen from the supermarket now to save time) or basmati rice ( if tolerated) and steamed broccoli and carrot on the side (from your pre-cut veggies). Another night make Mexican bowls using the chilli mixture or you can do loaded sweet potato with a dollop of mashed avocado on top.

susan joy's mexican bowl
Susan Joy’s Mexican Bowl

Slow-Cooker meals can be a life saver, prep the night before and store in the fridge. Try my Slow-Cooker Baked Chicken with gravy, so delicious.

Mince (use either turkey, chicken, lamb or beef). Use it to make meatballs, meatloaf or rissoles (also great for lunchboxes), they all freeze well.

Make extra meat and veg filling when making Shepherds pie. Use the extra mixture to make individual pies (a pie maker could save you lots of time). If you are making mashed sweet potato to pop on top of your shepherd’s pie, make extra and use it to make salmon patties the next night.

Cook a double batch of preservative-free sausages and use the leftovers to make another meal. For your first dinner, cook vegetables with the sausages, then use the leftovers to make another meal like curried sausages and serve over mash (I love cauliflower and parsnip mash).

Curried Sausage recipe: In a fry pan, saute a diced onion then add some minced garlic and curry powder to your taste. Pour in about 1 ½ cups of passata (tomato puree), bring to a simmer and add in chopped leftover sausages. Spoon over mash, sprinkle top with chopped parsley.

Make meals simple and just “Eat Real Food”.

Making good food choices will not only nourish you and your family but it helps our bodies ward off illness and disease.

You and your family can’t thrive on processed packaged food that’s void of nutrients. Healthy eating doesn’t need to be difficult and by reducing the number of processed items in your kitchen, you will automatically will be reducing the number of additives your family consumes.

Article supplied with thanks to The JOYful Table.

About the Author: Susan is an author of The JOYful Table cookbook containing gluten & grain free, and Paleo inspired recipes for good health and wellbeing.

Feature image: Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash