I am a mom, a spouse and an author. Preparing family meals day after day is usually the last thing on my mind. Often burned out from being everything to everyone, I don’t have the time, energy or personal chef to feed five people three squares a day. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or work outside of the home, the struggle is real.
I will concede that I am a bit of an anomaly - I actually LOVE to cook. It has been a hobby of mine since I was young. Cooking relaxes me, and I am good at it. Maybe is my Italian heritage. I currently have a stack of recipes clipped from my favorite foodie magazine that I am dying to try. Problem is that I don’t have the time that I used to.
How do busy moms keep their sanity? Sometimes it is a well-planned out homemade dinner. Occasionally it is a fast-food drive-through window. Most of the time, it is somewhere in between. I am certainly not a food-planning guru, but I have learned a few tips along the way.
What are the main concerns I hear from today’s stressed-out moms?
Healthy Meal Choices – In my new book, 40-Something and Fried, I discuss the lost art of cooking the “happy meal” that plagues frazzled moms. Choking down fast food has become the norm for so many, yet we are constantly food-shamed by messages to eat clean, organic and natural foods.
You don’t have to go nuts with kale, chia seeds, beets, or any of the other latest super food crazes to make a healthy meal for your family. When it comes to meal prep, I use the acronym KISS – keep it simple stupid:
The fewer ingredients, the better.
Fresh ingredients are best.
Skip pre-made meals in a box.
Eat a variety of REAL foods.
Not all foods need to be organic – especially if they have an outside peel/shell – like bananas, onions, avocados and sweet corn.
Fresh fruits and veggies are best; frozen fresh is next!
On grocery runs, I try to stick to a list and shop primarily around the outside of the grocery store. That is where the fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products are located. Most of the processed, packaged junk is located within the middle aisles. I will throw in some dark chocolate on occasion…. I am not totally delusional! I just avoid unnatural items like potatoes in a box or shelved pre-cooked bacon.
Time Savers – Many restaurants tout “healthy” food delivery. By the time food is ordered and delivered, you could have stir fried some meat and veggies, and served them alongside a 10-minute rice blend. Now that nutritional values have been made readily available, many restaurant choices are not as healthy as they claim to be. What other food hacks save time?
Casseroles can be healthy, time-saving, economical and comforting. Prep the night before or freeze ahead.
Semi-homemade is not evil. The pasta may not be homemade, but you can cook some high-fiber noodles; use a jarred pesto or quick Marinara; and add a few shrimp to make a healthy meal.
Get your kids and spouse involved. After all, they should learn how to cook and appreciate food too!
Stock up on basics. With veggies, meats and pastas on hand, you will always have quick meal options.
Crock pots are back in! Add ingredients in the morning and forget about it! Soups and stews are fabulous crock choices.
Try breakfast for dinner, or make a bunch of appetizers as a meal.
The Big Salad – a salad full of ingredients like mixed greens, chicken breast nuggets, veggies, sunflower seeds, boiled eggs, and cheese is always a hit!
Get Grilling! Throw on a lean meat and a side veggie, and you are done!
Fruits, Oatmeal and Eggs for breakfast instead of instant cereal. They are quick and much better for you.
Money Matters – Most of us can’t afford a personal chef, continuous food delivery or endless restaurants. How do you create meals within a budget without becoming a crazy couponer?
Avoid portioned food and spices that arrive in a box. While appealing to singles or small families with large incomes, they just don’t make economic sense for larger families.
Choose in-season fruits and vegetables, and watch for meat specials.
Buy store brands for basic items; and use phone apps with digital coupons.
Leftovers are food too. Take some to work for lunch.
Meatless Mondays and Taco Tuesdays – make up your own day of the week favorites!
Stock a variety of spices, a good olive oil, and a few flavorful cheeses. They guarantee the biggest bang for the buck.
Make your own coffee. You you can add fancy creamers and syrups, and it will still be cheaper than that overpriced store-bought Venti.
Food Sanity - I admit that some days I struggle to be creative with food options. When my children were smaller, I went to great lengths to make cute kiddie food. Now I just try to get good options on the table that everyone likes at a decent time. I confess that my older girls probably got a lot more of my “creativity” than my son. The need to make Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes had passed.
I do try to make healthy choices, but I no longer lament stopping at an occasional drive-through or the yearly Halloween candy stash. Who has the time or energy for all that guilt? Fads come and go. My family is still happy and still healthy.
Go ahead and try that recipe you saw on TV, in a magazine or from a Facebook post, but please do not spend the next three weeks obsessing about how you can’t stay on the Paleo diet, or that you occasionally stop for fast food. Oh, and don’t forget the chocolate and wine every now and then!
Keep it real; keep it simple; and forget about it!
Originally posted in the May 2017 issue of Rochester Women Online