We've all been there. It's dinnertime on a weekday, and between rushing the kids to ballet and soccer practice and balancing a howling toddler on your arm, there just isn't time to stop and prepare the healthy, perfectly balanced meal you hoped for.
Before you make 2016 the year of fast food, consider this advice from Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, full-time dietician, mother to a toddler and author of "The Perfect Baby Diet: From Birth and Breastfeeding to Toddlerhood: A Dietitian-Approved Baby 'Meal' Plan." Hunnes shared her top tips with ACTIVEkids.com to make 2016 a healthy new year for you and your family.
Make Weekly Food Lists1 of 8
Write down your planned meals every week. For example, you could hang a small dry-erase board in the kitchen and jot down "Sunday—Fish, Monday—Pizza, Tuesday—Leftovers, etc." Refer to your weekly list before you grocery shop.
"This is a must if you want to use your time and money in the most efficient way possible," Hunnes says.
Involve Your Kids in Grocery Shopping2 of 8
"When I'm shopping with my son, I find that he enjoys picking up different fruits and vegetables, touching them, looking at them, smelling them and trying to say them," Hunnes says.
Children are naturally inquisitive, so spark their interest in healthy eating by making grocery shopping a fun learning experience instead of a dreaded chore.
"Take them to a farmers market or the grocery store and let them explore the different fruits and vegetables," Hunnes says. "Then take a new one home each week and have them help you prepare something with it."
Use Your Weekends Wisely3 of 8
When you have enough time to work with, creating balanced meals on the weekend makes each week healthier. Hunnes makes all of her son's meals on the weekend so she can control the salt intake and ingredients.
"I will package anywhere between three and five days-worth of food in glass jars that are easily microwavable," Hunnes says. "I also pour his five bottles of milk, mix his five jars of yogurt, because I like to put his vitamin D and pro-biotic in the yogurt, and cut up and prepare his French toast or whole wheat pancakes."
Frozen Fruits and Veggies are Your Friend4 of 8
You've likely heard that "fresh is best," but frozen is your friend during busy weeks. Hunnes suggests purchasing frozen organic green beans, edamame, corn and peas.
"The nice thing about these frozen vegetables is that they are picked at the peak of their freshness and then flash frozen, retaining their vitamins and nutrients," Hunnes says. "By microwaving or boiling them, they can be ready to eat in minutes."
Start Them Young5 of 8
Don't rule out frozen veggies for the youngest little ones, either.
"For the newly-minter eater (6 to 8 months), you can take these vegetables and puree them in a blender," Hunnes says. "That way, you give your child a one-ingredient food, which is strongly recommended when first trying out new foods on your baby."
Hunnes notes that infancy and childhood are the best times to introduce your children to healthy eating habits, as these habits can stick with them for the rest of their lives.
Trust Your Child's Appetite6 of 8
Bribing your child to eat with juice or a favorite candy is a huge mistake, Hunnes says. This practice teaches children that eating when they aren't hungry is OK. If they refuse to eat all of their dinner, let it be.
"For those of you worried you will be sending your child to bed hungry, it's OK," Hunnes says. "If your child tells you they are no longer hungry, even if they only ate half their plate, believe them. Children, young children in particular, have an amazing ability to self-regulate their appetites. So it may very well be true that when your toddler pushes their plate away, they're done."
Skip the Kids' Meals7 of 8
If you're stuck in a crazy busy week and the only option is fast food, forgo the kids' meals.
"Kids' meals tend to be nothing more than fried white flour, pasta or cheesy dish," Hunnes says. "Either give them some of your meal or order another healthy entree and bring the leftovers home."