Eating healthy as a Military Family on the Go can be tough! Life gets really busy sometimes. When you throw in being a MilSpouse with a family that’s planning PCS moves and deployments every few years and/or months… time can really get away from you, making you want to take the easy way out when it comes to accomplishing some of your typical daily activities, such as eating a healthy diet. Let’s face it, shopping for all of the ingredients and cooking it up for dinner.
Piling on busy schedules filled with getting to/from work, taking kids to/from school and their extracurricular activities, trying to get household chores done, and so on can lead to not-so-healthy choices. Choices like: drive-through fast food lanes. It can be very tempting — and sometimes it can actually feel financially prudent — to simply place a quick order, roll up to a fast-food window, hand over a few dollars and receive pre-made meals in a bag. Away you go, knowing your hunger will be appeased within minutes.
But, even in those moments when the neon restaurant signs you’re driving past are calling your name, do you really want to answer? Not only is there a chance you may regret it later when you realize your appetite wasn’t completely satisfied by your choice of fast food, but it could turn out that what you really want at the end of the day is time to slow down and sit at the dinner table as a family… eating a healthy home-cooked meal at a relaxed pace.
So, how can you accomplish that when daily activities seem endless, with few breaks in between? Rather than thinking about food and meals throughout the day, from morning to midday to suppertime, try tackling the problem from a different starting point: a weekly one.
Tips for Preparing Meals Ahead of Time
Here are 3 ways to help you plan, purchase and prepare meals ahead of time… so that you and your family can eat healthy meals together regularly, without a lot of fuss:
1) Consider each family member’s favorite food and give them their own day of the week. Does your spouse stick with steak and potatoes? Is your youngest child mad for macaroni, while your eldest pines for pasta primavera? Do you crave chimichangas? Keep everyone’s taste buds happy by divvying up the 7 days of the week between each member of your family.
For example, if daughter Tiffany’s selected day is Tuesday, then she gets to request a certain meal for that day, each week… such as “Taco Tuesdays” one week and “Tuesday Turkey Bites” the next. Then, on Wednesdays, Walter gets to request his favorite meals, such as: “Wild Rice Wednesdays” or “Wasabi Wednesdays”. And so on.
No, you don’t need to be that goofy about it… just designate certain days to certain family members so that they will always have a day (and meal) to look forward to (and share in the effort of planning).
2) Choose one day of the week that will always be the same meal. Pizza Night. Spaghetti Night. Soup-and-Sandwich Night. Whatever meal your family is always in the mood for, pick a night and stick to it every week. Knowing what you’re going to eat every single Monday night can save you a lot of time and energy trying to come up with something new. Plus, you can always shake things up by adding different toppings, noodles or seasoning.
3) Keep meals basic. No… that does not mean: Make all meals boring. It means: Create meals that use everyday ingredients that are easy to find at the store, last a long time in your pantry, don’t require a lot of dishes, pots and pans, and can be frozen for future dining options. Unless you’ve got a special occasion coming up that requires a certain ingredient you wouldn’t normally add to a meal (mustard powder, anyone?)… keep your pantry and refrigerator well-stocked only with everyday items that can be whisked together into tasty meals without much thought or effort.
Wondering where the “keep it healthy” message fits into the above ideas? When you plan ahead, you can control the ingredients you incorporate — fresh ingredients that aren’t full of added salt, sugars and other long words you can’t pronounce or spell off the top of your head. Yes, you can add “fat” to a dish and still be healthy — just think olive oil instead of bacon grease. Choose low-fat cheeses and milk instead of whole milk. Don’t overfill plates with tons of food; keep portion sizes appropriate for the family member who will be eating it.
But do be sure to make extra portions when you can. Then, freeze. Thaw. Eat. Repeat. Just think: the more you can stock up on ahead of time, the less time you will spend trying to think up and whip up meals at the last minute. And the more you will be able to control any fast-food cravings. When you know you have it at home and it’s readily accessible… it’s much, much easier to keep driving without making a drive-thru detour.
And, keep this in mind, too: The tips above don’t just apply to dinner. If it’s easier for your family to gather at breakfast or lunch on certain days of the week — or every day of the week— then, by all means… adapt your meal planning accordingly. Whatever you can do to clear out some room in your mind… and lighten up a few hours of the day, do it.
Ultimately, it can give you more of the energy you need to help you accomplish your tasks, maintain the stress of daily life events, and give you back the time you need to live a healthier life. What more could your military family ask for than that!
About the Guest Blogger
Cathleen Karlsson is the daughter of a retired Navy Captain. Growing up, she lived with her family in five different states before earning her B.A. in fiction at the University of Pittsburgh. She is an experienced, award-winning marketing writer who currently is the Editor for SpouseLink.org.
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