They call it arsenic hour. It’s that time of day when the parents are back in the house, but before dinner is served. Everyone is tired. Everyone is hungry, and there’s an emotional meltdown waiting to happen, either to you or the kids.
It’s no wonder we so often resort to processed or take-out food to bring order to this chaos. Unfortunately, those processed foods often contain artificial preservatives, colours, refined flour and too much sugar and salt, says Christine Gingerich, a wellness coach based in New Hamburg, Ont.
Gingerich is the author of the healthy lifestyle and cookbook, Optimal You — Great-Tasting Recipes & Powerful Lifestyle Strategies to Achieve Optimal Health, and she assures us that with a little planning, it doesn’t take that much more time to cook and bake from scratch instead of buying prepared foods.
For people who want to eat healthier and feel better, the biggest change they can make is to eat more whole foods, says Gingerich. When grocery shopping, she avoids buying products that have ingredients she can’t pronounce. She also tries to start each dinner with a healthy serving of salad made with fresh ingredients and her home made salad dressing.
Each week she makes up a batch of a couple of different kinds of salad dressing, often using her Garden-of-Eden recipe. See more of her tips on her website.
Down the road in Chatham, Ont., registered holistic nutritionist Ashley Srokosz agrees with Gingerich on the importance of eating whole foods. “It’s about going back to how people used to eat… to eating food that will nourish you,” Srokosz says.
After spending the past five years helping time-crunched families develop healthier eating patterns, Srokosz has found that many of her clients already know what they should be eating, but just don’t know how to fit meal prep and cooking into their jam-packed schedules.
“Dinner is the last thing on their minds… they’re just trying to get through the day,” says Srokosz.
One of the most useful things you can do is to plan your meals in advance, says Srokosz. Gingerich agrees: “You don’t want to come home from work, open the fridge and think ‘what do I make.’”
Srokosz advises taking a half-hour to plan what you’ll serve each night for the next week or two.
It doesn’t have to be difficult, says Gingerich. “Every family should have a good assortment of tried and true recipes,” she says. Make a list of any ingredients you’ll need to buy and keep track of items you’ve used up to avoid having to make multiple trips to the grocery store.
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Keeping your pantry stocked with healthy staples such as canned beans, canned tomatoes, brown rice and lentils means you will always have the makings of a healthy meal on hand, says Srokosz.
Srokosz considers her crock pot to be an indispensable tool. Most of the meal prep can be done the night before, she explains, and then dinner is ready when you come home from work.
When making batches of soup, stew or casseroles, Srokosz makes extra and freezes them in meal-size quantities. This is also a good way to save money because you take advantage of things on sale, she adds. Gingerich also likes to store some leftover meals in single-size portions in the freezer for convenient lunches. Find more of Srokosz tips on her website.
When Gingerich sees ground beef or chicken on sale, she buys 10 pounds and cooks it all at once, freezing it in two-pound packages. “It’s so handy to have the pre-cooked meat on hand. I just toss it in the slow cooker with some canned tomatoes and chopped veggies and I have a soup.”
Be sure to label and date all items for the freezer so you know what you’ve got and can use it up in a timely manner, Gingerich cautions.
A food processor with grater and slicer attachments is another good time-saving tool, adds Srokosz. If you’re already chopping vegetables, it doesn’t take much longer to chop enough for extra meals. If you know what you’re having for each dinner that week, you can chop enough vegetables for the whole week. Then store the vegetables in separate labelled containers to make it easy to use them.
While it’s good to have family favourites, Srokosz advises stepping outside of your comfort zone sometimes.
Despite Srokosz’s passion for healthy eating, however, she doesn’t aim for perfection. Instead, she says, set healthy targets you can achieve.
There may be times when you resort to ordering pizza, but with a little planning and organization, this can be the exception rather than the rule. Says Srokosz: “I try to eat healthy 80 per cent of the time.”