Ten stress-free healthy hacks for busy families
Life gets hectic for us all. Dietitian Karissa Woolfe shares time-saving tips to make raising healthy families a little easier.
1. Plan ahead
Avoid that feeling of dread when someone asks ‘What’s for dinner?’ by writing out a menu plan for the week. Devoting an hour a week to menu planning saves time, money and thinking space. You’ll know exactly what’s for dinner, and have an instant shopping list. Start by downloading a template or draw up one of your own. If planning the whole week’s meals is too daunting, start with a day or two at a time, or focus purely on evening meals. Involving the family can encourage them to get hands-on in the kitchen, too.
Quick meals with eggs
- Poached eggs pair perfectly with avocado and sliced tomato on grainy toast.
- Omelettes are an easy, last-minute dinner. Whisk two eggs, a dash of milk and a handful of fresh herbs together, and cook in a pan until set. Serve with grainy toast and a tossed salad.
- Frittatas are perfect for sneaking extra veges into the kids’ lunchboxes.
- Our 5pm panic recipes are ready in under 30 minutes!
- Pack lunches and get breakfasts ready the night before.
2. Make veges the star
If you’re stuck in a meal rut turn to the veg for inspiration. Next time you’re at the shops, look out for a fresh, in-season vegetable that takes your fancy and find a recipe that turns it into the hero of your meal. Healthy Food Guide always includes recipes using seasonal veges.
3. Invest your time wisely
Grocery shopping can be a time thief, especially at peak times like just after work or school. Buying groceries online to be delivered to your door, or shopping late in the evening, after dinner or during your lunch break can save you time to spend with your family instead. No more crowded car parks and queues at the check-out!
4. Cook, eat and freeze
Kids’ activities can eat into meal-prep time, tempting you towards a quick takeaway. But homemade is healthier and cheaper. A great trick is to schedule cooking around commitments and make several meals at once that you can freeze. Or, when you make a meal, double the recipe and freeze the other half. Slow-cooked meals, bolognese and curries are ideal meals to cook once, eat twice (for lunch the next day) and freeze.
5. Munch and crunch
We can all benefit from eating an extra serve of fresh veges a day. According to a recent UK study, this simple health hack reduces overall risk of death by 16 per cent.
Ways to up the veges
- Serve cooked breakfasts with grilled mushrooms, tomato or baby spinach
- Add diced veges and herbs to omelettes
- Enjoy fresh tomato, avocado and baked beans on toast
- Fill sandwiches with extra salad
- Serve a side salad, or bowl of vegetable soup as an entrée
- Try a new mash combo of potato and pumpkin, cauliflower or cannellini beans
- Use a spiraliser to make veges fun to eat
- Keep vege sticks front and centre in the fridge for grazing on between meals
- Grate beetroot, carrot or courgette into muffins and cakes
6. Lighten your load
Ordering meal boxes can take the pressure off dinner planning, so you can enjoy the cooking without stressing over what to make.
7. Go with the grain
Whole grains such as brown rice, barley and quinoa add fibre, vitamins and minerals, but can take time to cook.
Invest in a microwave rice or pasta cooker, pressure cooker or slow cooker. Cook extra so you can freeze it in individual containers.
When you’re in a rush, use options that can be ready within minutes, like microwavable pouches of brown rice or quinoa.
8. Play together
Being active outdoors together is a great way to enjoy the fresh air and also saves time by not taking everyone to separate activities. Research suggests families who exercise together have a healthier body weight and also eat better, reducing their risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes later in life.
Family fitness hacks
- Go for a leisurely stroll or cycle together
- Walk, ride or scooter to school and work
- Enjoy a friendly family game of backyard cricket, soccer or tennis
- Boost your daily step count by taking shopping bags inside one at a time
- Focus family excursions on walking, like visiting the local zoo, museum or farmers’ market
- Pack a picnic and throw a frisbee at the beach, or kick a ball in the park
- On rainy days, enjoy a lounge room boogie together, or build an indoor obstacle course
- Go for a swim together (or splash, paddle and giggle!) at your local swimming pool or beach
9. Enjoy the table talk
Eating together is associated with reduced risk of obesity, teen pregnancy, and even dementia. Studies suggest that families who eat together at the table make healthier food choices and have a healthier body mass index. Screen-free meal times are the best for connecting families, so turn them all off, including the TV.
10. Go green
Fresh herbs are an easy way to make a meal really special. Including just one gram of fresh herbs each day can significantly increase the antioxidants in your diet, helping to protect against oxidative stress and inflammation that can lead to heart disease, dementia and cancer. Herbs highest in antioxidants include marjoram, sage and thyme, so try scattering them on roasted veges, or add them to meat dishes and pasta sauces.
Quick ways to flavour your mid-week meals with fresh herbs:
- Gremolata: To add zing to slow-cooked dishes, garnish with a gremolata made from finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest.
- Pesto: When herbs get a little wilted, blend them into a pesto with nuts, parmesan and olive oil, and add to a risotto, pasta dish, soup or a stew.
- Curry paste: Turn your excess herbs into a simple curry paste by blitzing them with garlic, ginger and plenty of chilli.