Health & Fitness

To your health: Planning is key to healthy meals on busy days

If you keep your pantry stocked with some essentials, like brown rice, you'll always have a good meal at home.
If you keep your pantry stocked with some essentials, like brown rice, you'll always have a good meal at home. MCT

It’s that time of the year again! Kids are back in school, and parents are back to the struggles of what to eat on busy days.

Let’s talk about strategies to help the whole family eat right.

Plan your shopping

It is easy to fall into the trap of buying pre-packaged products for convenience. There are plenty of messages from the food companies to make you think that you are making the right choice. Statements such as “get two full servings of vegetables” or “contains a full serving of whole grains” are just marketing gimmicks. So how do we avoid this?

Make a list: First of all, make a plan to go grocery shopping once a week. Make a list! That way you only bring into the house what you need.

Check ingredients: Get into the habit of reading the list of ingredients on packages. Buy products with the shortest list of ingredients. Avoid products with hydrogenated fats, artificial colors and chemicals.

More fiber: One popular shopping strategy has always been to travel the outside of the store and stay away from the aisles. This is sound advice for buying your produce first. However, if you do not venture into one of those middle aisles, you will miss out on the most important nutrient that is lacking from American diets: fiber. Oats, barley, brown rice and other whole grains – plus dry and canned beans – are found in the middle aisles, and these are natural sources of fiber that help with a number of health issues.

So do go into the middle aisles – but be mindful and stick to your list.

Cooking in bulk on weekends

Now that you have done your grocery shopping, do a little prep work.

▪ Bake healthy homemade muffins using whole grain flours for breakfast (use applesauce to cut down on the total amount of fat).

▪ Prep veggies and lean protein for sandwiches and wraps for lunch.

▪ Use a slow cooker to prepare some bulk meals so you don’t have to cook everything from scratch on weeknights. Make soups such as minestrone or chili with beans.

▪ Cook a pot of brown rice in bulk to use later for stir-fry. Or cook a pot of black beans to use as taco or burrito fillings.

Prepping healthy snacks

Plan and prep some snacks on weekends to take to school and work or to eat as snacks after school.

▪ Apple slices with peanut butter

▪ 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries with vanilla yogurt

▪ Homemade trail mix with dried fruit and raw or dry roasted nuts and seeds

▪ Whole grain crackers and low-fat string cheese or peanut butter

▪ Veggies with hummus

▪ Baked tortilla chips with Texas Caviar (black beans, corn, salsa and avocado)

These strategies will help avoid grab-and-go fast food meals. A little mindfulness toward planning and prepping makes a big difference in the long-term health of the whole family.

Parul Kharod is a clinical dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital. Reach her at