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Eating Right in a Hurry: 9 Meal Prep Tips for Busy Parents

Any parent will tell you eating right on school nights is the ultimate juggling act. Making a dinner that’s fast and healthy and something your kids will actually eat is a daunting task. And when you throw into the mix afterschool activities that get you home around the time you’d ideally start eating dinner, it’s enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and order takeout — again.

I’m not a parent yet — but I will be soon. This fall I will be welcoming a two-year-old daughter home from China. Because eating healthy food is extremely important to me, I’ve been wondering how I’ll maintain that habit when demands on my time are infinitely greater. So I asked around for tips, and I found the following meal prep tips:

1) Plan ahead. Apparently, the time to decide what you’re eating is not when you get home from work and your toddler is clinging to your legs and whining. If you know what you’re cooking and some of the ingredients are already prepped, things will go more smoothly.

2) Cook when you have time. When do you have usable chunks of time? Over the weekend, in the morning before work, or after the kids are in bed? Cook then, so when your crew gets home from soccer practice wanting to eat and eat now, you can heat up dinner in a flash. Even if you can’t make a whole meal ahead of time, just having the fruits and vegetables chopped makes a big difference.

3) Cook in big batches. Leftovers can be lifesavers when you’re pressed for time. I’m already pretty busy, and this is a tactic I use currently. I especially like to cook up a big batch of soup on the weekends and then eat it every day for lunch.

4) Keep staples for quick meals in stock: Even if you usually cook beans yourself, it’s a good idea to keep a few (BPA-free) cans in the pantry. And frozen vegetables have saved many a last-minute meal. I always keep spinach and broccoli (two ingredients featured in Juice Plus!) in my freezer. If worse comes to worse, I can always whip up an omelet loaded with veggies for dinner.

5) Keep it simple. Complicated recipes may look tempting, but know your limits and save the fancy meals for a lazy weekend. One of my favorite summer meals involves opening a can of black beans, adding chopped cherry tomatoes and avocado, and mixing with a container of fresh salsa.

6) Shop at your local farmers’ market.  If your fruits and vegetables are local and in season, they’ll be fresh enough to make them the stars of the show, with no need for fussy presentation (which your kids are unlikely to appreciate anyway).

7) Grow your own food. I know, I know, this was supposed to be about saving time, and maintaining a garden takes time. But once you’ve put in the initial work, having food growing steps away from the kitchen door means you’re never out of lettuce or herbs, at least in the summertime. And a Tower Garden makes gardening even easier.

8) Let the kids help.  Kids can set the table, chop fruits and vegetables, grate cheese, or stir a pot. When they’re little, sometimes that “help” may actually make the meal take longer to cook. But it’s a good investment, because a child who learns to cook becomes a teen who can cook for you one or two nights a week.

9) Turn to social media. My sister, a mom of two, says having a steady stream of recipes in her Facebook feed is a big help. But the source matters. You don’t want a gourmet food blog, full of delicious, impractical recipes. Instead, find and follow a family-oriented food blog that will provide you with quick, nutritious recipes. Also, see if your local farmers’ market sends out alerts about what will be available the next week, making menu planning easier. Some markets even post recipes for in-season produce.

Now you tell me: when it comes to eating right, what’s your favorite fast, healthy, kid-friendly meal?

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