“How do you have time?”
I hear that often when I mention what I cooked for supper. Online, in person, or over leftovers the next day at lunch, especially since I joined the October Unprocessed challenge and have vowed to skip processed food for this whole month. Everyone wants to know how I find time to cook healthy meals from whole foods on most nights of the week. I’m probably as busy as the next mom: working full time as a teacher, working part-time as a writer, being a wife, mother, daughter and sister. And yet I find time to cook because I make time. It’s something that I value.
We all know that family meals are important for a variety of reasons. It’s primal, wired into our brains through evolution: sitting around a fire sharing a meal and company is a part of our human history. It’s a time to bond with my child and husband, have family discussions on important and not-so-important world events. It’s also a time to be a role model for my child by enjoying, not just eating, healthy foods. Nutritious, whole foods are good for us and good for the environment. Each meal can be a step toward a healthier body, a healthier family, and a healthier planet.
Even though I know this, it’s still difficult for me and many other moms and dads. It’s not just the cooking; I need to find healthy foods and recipes before I can cook. Here are my five best tips for making time for healthy eating.
1. It doesn’t have to be fancy
I have fun making highly complicated and challenging recipes… when I have time. But this isn’t most of the time. Most nights I get supper on the table in about 30 minutes. I’ve said before that I learned to cook by watching Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals, and that’s true. I never follow her recipes but I learned so many quick techniques that I’m able to apply to what I have at the time. I love to grill, bake, and saute. If I’ve got the oven on, I often try to use it for double-duty by baking potatoes or butternut squash along with my roast chicken or lasagna. That saves energy and time for later in the week. If slow cooking is in order, I try to make a one-pot meal so I won’t have to invest time to load the slow cooker and then cook sides later on.
2. Make it part of your lifestyle
Since I grew up on a farm, eating seasonally has always been a part of my life. I already know what’s in season and I plan accordingly. We have fun picking strawberries, raspberries, peaches, and apples. We walk out into the corn field behind my parents’ house and pick corn right before supper that night. On my husband’s side, we raise some of our meat: turkeys, chickens and pigs. One half of a pig feeds us for a year, and always having the meat in our freezer is pretty convenient. We get to plant the seeds, pet the animals and harvest as well. I’m teaching my son about where his food comes from and helping to support local farmers, reduce pesticide use, maintaining biodiversity, and putting healthy food on the table.
3. Make it fun for little ones
Supper time is a busy time in our house. When Joshua was first born, it was cranky time. For the first three months I nursed him continuously between the hours of 5-9pm, so cooking was out of the question. Now that he’s older I have a lot more time to cook but he still demands my attention, and I want to give it to him because we’re apart all day. I’d much rather play with him than cook, so I make it fun for both of us. He’s not really old enough to help me cook but he can sit on the floor and stir an empty bowl with a wooden spoon, stack measuring cups and rummage through the drawers. Sure it makes a mess and I have to clean it all up, but he’s having fun and learning through exploration while I cook.
4. Stock the larder
I can’t cook if there’s no food in the house. I regularly visit my family’s farm so I have fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies on hand. We also have meat in the freezer. I buy other produce and meats from local growers, too. I also started couponing and following sales on dry and canned goods like flour, beans, pasta and tomatoes. My favorite time-saver is grocery delivery from Peapod and CT Farm Fresh Express because I don’t have to spend time in the store or hauling groceries. Instead I can sit on the couch after bedtime and shop on my computer or iPhone. I still stop at the store when I need to, but it’s only a few times each month.
5. Make extra
I find it very easy to cook extra so there are leftovers for lunches. It’s just as easy and takes about the same time to make two quiches instead of only one, a whole chicken instead of a few pieces, or a larger pot of soup. I pack leftovers in containers as I put them away so I can grab them and go in the morning. The nutritious leftovers combined with fresh fruit, yogurt, or a salad make for true convenience food for us, since we leave the house by 6:45 am each day.
I’m not perfect, not by a long shot. There are nights when I’m too tired or busy to cook and we may end up with take out Chinese food. I’m not hard on myself about that because I figure it’s the old 90/10 rule. I do my best and cook at home about 90% of the time, and I’m proud of what I can accomplish.
You may also enjoy: As you may know, I am also a part of the Moms Clean Air Force. Part of the reason that I am so passionate about reducing air pollution is because of its impacts on our food. My husband’s family has a shellfishing business and we also love to eat fish that he catches, but I worry about mercury and other pollutants. Here are some great stories and resources about the connection between air pollution and food: