As summer has shifted into fall and we’ve all returned to a more brisk pace with busy schedules and routines, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon in my hometown. As I drive my daughter home from swim team practice, often at dinner time or much later than that, the line of cars at Wendy’s seems to be growing longer and longer. I get it. Parents are out of time. They have dealt with long commutes and then evenings spent driving kids to sports, lessons, tutoring, volunteering, CCD, you name it. Wendy’s is an easy and quick solution to dinner when time is of the essence.
At the risk of sounding a wee bit smug, I have been inside of Wendy’s in Mansfield only once in the eighteen years that I’ve lived in this town. It was when my children were pre-school age and one of them needed to use the restroom and could not wait the six more minutes for us to get to our house. I did have a year when I succumbed to the McDonald’s happy meal fix (with apples, not fries) for my children, once a week when they were about five and three years old. I remember that on Thursdays we went from day care to swim lessons to another sports class. What’s a mom to do?
Fast forward ten years and you would never see that happen in our house now. What changed? Gosh – so much! I invested a lot in my own (and my family’s) nutritional well-being by educating myself, by dedicating time to planning and shopping and by spending more time in the kitchen. I also involved my kids in planning, cooking and in trying new foods. I had the great fortune (just at that time when I was swinging through the Mickey D’s drive through once a week) of working for NuVal, a fantastic start-up which created a scientifically-based nutritional scoring system that we implemented in supermarkets, hospitals and schools.
One night as I drove by the long Wendy’s line, snaking out of the parking lot and spilling onto the main road, I asked myself, if there was one thing that changed to keep you from being in that line tonight, what was it? After all, I’ve had a day. I’ve done two soul-crushing commutes, raced into the house with just enough time to change into comfy clothes, and have now driven my daughter to a late team practice and back. We’re now getting home for dinner after 8 pm. Why are we not in the Wendy’s line? Planning. You’ve got to plan. There’s no getting around it. And you need to devote some time to the process. But in the end, it will save you time and you will eat more nutritiously.
Here’s our method that we’ve developed over time:
· Plan your meals for the week: Set aside a time every week that works for you. I promise – you will come to enjoy it. My husband and I do this Saturday morning over coffee. We look at the week ahead – and all the activities that are going on during the upcoming week. Extra busy nights call for a slow cooker meal. You also might take other factors into consideration when menu planning (what’s on sale, what’s in season, what makes great leftovers).
· Create tools that work for you – or find tools that do! We have created a shopping list (old school style – in Excel) that we can print out and use for weekly shopping. However, we also use Cozi. I LOVE Cozi’s shopping list feature as I can create lists for different stores I go to (I even have one for Sephora) and when I’m shopping I can check things off as I buy them. You can download recipes and all the ingredients will appear in the shopping list. It also has other great features, such as shared calendars, to do lists, and reminders. Our family would be lost without it.
· Power cook. Every person I know who is successful at the healthy eating thing does this. We spend a few hours each week cooking ahead. Typically for us, this in on Sunday. We steam, roast or grill some vegetables. I make salad. We make one or two meals ahead so that they can me re-heated or slow-cooked during the week. Not only does this keep us out of the Wendy’s line, it keeps our lunch bags full of healthy and delicious eats during the week which is much cheaper and more nutritious than eating out all the time.
· Recycle your menus, but try new stuff too. Through this menu planning process, we’ve developed a great repertoire of tried and true favorites. For those, we now have a binder where we keep those recipes (again, old school, but it works). However, it’s important not to get stuck in a rut, so we do try new stuff.
· Change it up. We’ve had weeks when we let the kids plan the menu. That was interesting! And when I travel for business out of town, the rest of the family will enjoy a Mom-free night where they don’t have some of my food restrictions. Let’s just say there is a lot of gluten!
· Be flexible. Life happens. We’ve been known to switch nights, to scratch plans, to just make omelets instead.
Menu planning, shopping, cooking – it all times time and commitment. But it is key to healthy living. With a little time and planning, you can eat well all week long.