Preparing and eating meals at home is an important step toward eating healthy. Too many of us eat out in restaurants and on the go more than we should. We know that when we eat out we usually eat larger portion sizes; more calories, fat, and sugar; fewer fruits and vegetables; fewer whole grains; and fewer low-fat dairy products.
Meals you prepare and eat at home don’t have to be fancy or gourmet, and they don’t have to take a lot of time. Preparing a simple meal at home takes about as much time as driving to a fast food restaurant or ordering a pizza.
You can have easy, quick, and healthy meals at home. Just keep it simple with these four steps: PLAN, SHOP, FIX, and EAT.
- The first and most important step is planning. Start by keeping a list of the things your family likes to eat. This list can help you as you plan for each week. If you try a new recipe that everyone likes, don’t forget to add it to the list. Keep the master list taped inside the kitchen cupboard.
- The number one reason people say they can’t eat healthy is lack of time. If you plan meals, you will actually save time and money in the long run. By planning ahead, you will have the things on hand you need to fix quick, easy, healthy meals for you and your family ─ and it won't take any more time than going to the drive-thru.
- Set aside 30 minutes to plan for the next week.
- Make a list of the main dish and the side dishes that you will serve for each day of the week. Select recipes that have few ingredients and that use quick cooking techniques.
- Post the menu on the refrigerator.
- Get input from your family members. Use your list of everyone’s favorite foods, including main dishes, salads, vegetables, fruits, and desserts.
- Look in cookbooks, newspapers, Web sites, or magazines for quick main dish and side dish ideas. Add them to the list. File recipes in a file, box, or loose-leaf notebook.
- Shop regularly, whether once a week or once a month. This saves time, gas, and money.
- In-season fruits and vegetables are less expensive and taste better.
- Visit local farmer’s markets or farm stands for lower prices and better quality.
- Stick to the list. You are less likely to overspend and less likely to forget ingredients you may need for your week’s menus.
- Don’t shop hungry. Eat a snack, or go shopping after eating a meal.
- Get the kids involved by letting them choose a new fruit or vegetable that they’d like to try or an old favorite. Kids who get to help pick out foods and help fix them are more likely to try them.
- Stick to your plan.
- Wash and prepare fruits and vegetables in advance.
- Make extra of a main dish for another meal.
- Add a favorite canned or frozen fruit or vegetable to any main meal.
- Check your meal plan each evening, and take out frozen meats the night before. Place them in a dish in the refrigerator to thaw safely for the next day’s dinner.
- Get the kids involved. Fixing meals can be fun for the whole family. Children are more likely to try new foods if they help get them to the table. Safety comes first. Encourage good hand-washing.
- Eat together: All families are busy. Make eating together a family priority. Mealtime is a great opportunity for parents and kids to be together. Adults are important role models for kids and can influence foods they taste and learn to eat. Remember that kids often take more time to eat than adults do. Take your time through dinner, and enjoy the extra few minutes sitting at the table before cleaning up.
- Turn off the TV: Turn off the television, radio, cell phone, and beeper so everyone can focus on the conversation without distraction. Let the answering machine pick up calls, or turn off the phone ringer to avoid dinner interruptions.
- Share events of the day: Ask each person at the table to talk about a fun activity or something good that happened that day. It is a wonderful time to catch up on special school events or achievements of the kids in your family. You can also plan upcoming family activities (maybe going for a walk after dinner).
- Make healthy choices: It is easier to make healthy choices when meals are prepared at home and families sit at the table together to share that meal. It is a good time to talk about and model healthy eating, portion sizes, and trying new foods.
For more information: Prepare and Eat More Meals at Home PDF
Fisher, J.O., et al. 2002. Parents' role modeling significantly impacts fruit and vegetable intake, as long as pressure isn't applied. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102(1):58-64.
Gillman, M.W., et al. 2000. Family dinners increase intakes of fiber, calcium, folate, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C and E, lower in sat and trans fat. Archives of Family Medicine 9:235-240.
Lin, B.H., Guthrie, J., Blaylock, J.R. 1996. Diets of America's Children. Influence of Dining Out, Household Characteristics, and Nutrition Knowledge. Economic Research Service, Washington, D.C. Food and Consumer Economics. Agricultural Economic Report No. 746.
Bowman, S.A., Vinyard, B.T. 2004. Fast food consumption of U.S. adults: Impact on energy and nutrient intakes and overweight status. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23(2):163-168.
Bowman, S.A., Gortmaker, S.L., Ebbeling, C.B., Pereira, M.A., Ludwig, D.S. 2004. Effects of fast-food consumption on energy intake and diet quality among children in a national household survey. Pediatrics 113(1):112-118.
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