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6. Involve the kids. Turn over some tasks to your children; drastically cut your workload. Even the youngest can contribute. "My 5-year-old tears up the lettuce for salads," Felder says. Older kids, like 13-year-old Taylor Lewis-Batty, can and should cook entire meals, Cora believes: "I was cooking meals when I was 10," she says. Buy each child a cookbook of her or his own (such as Cora's Cooking from the Hip: Fast, Easy, Phenomenal Meals). Or let them google recipes. Buy the ingredients, then supervise, but don't hover. "You're only there to put out fires," literal and figurative, Cora says. "They probably won't need you. And kids enjoy eating what they cook, including vegetables, which is a big plus."
7. Simmer—and then forget about it. Every expert stressed that cooking can be faster, easier, healthier—and more convenient—than eating carry-out foods. "Throw a pork shoulder or a chicken in the Crock-Pot," Felder says. Then ignore the kitchen for hours. "At the end of the day, you'll have enough meat for three or four different meals. All you have to do is make some rice and steam your cut-up broccoli. Fifteen minutes and you're done." Or have your children help you make lasagna, freeze it in meal-sized portions, and, during the week, have a microwaved Italian feast.
8. Don't be afraid to use frozen veggies. "The frozen vegetables you can buy today are so much better than even five years ago," Cora says. "They're not those blocks of spinach that you had to break against a table." Look for flash-frozen, unprocessed corn, peas, spinach, beans, or broccoli in microwave-ready steamer bags, she says. Avoid presauced varieties, which tend to be overprocessed and salty.
9. Establish mealtimes. "Being busy can be paralyzing," Morgenstern says. Structured mealtimes ameliorate some of that anxiety. "Set a family dinner hour, at 6 or 7 or whenever," she says. "Then stick to it. If one parent can't be there, leave it to the other." Kids' activities impinge? Talk to coaches about rescheduling. "Kids need order and consistency in eating habits," Morgenstern says. "We all do." Plus, it can be liberating to have boundaries, "to know that at this hour, dinner takes place. You can't control everything in your family's life. But you can control that."
10. Rethink what "eating well" means. "I grew up having a sit-down family dinner every night," says Tom Vilsack, the U.S. secretary of agriculture. "But I know it's not realistic for most people to spend 90 minutes every day preparing dinner and sitting down together." Maybe instead, he says, "try family breakfast." The type of meal counts less than the context. "A shared meal is one of the last bastions of ritual," says Ted Allen, host of Food Network's Chopped. "It gently reaffirms your affection for the people you feed." So go ahead and "buy a prepared rotisserie chicken if you're too busy to cook that day," Morgenstern concludes. "It's healthier than fast food. Just be sure to sit and talk with your family while you eat it. That's what we should mean by 'eating well.'"
Plus: Feeding Active Kids: Don't Sweat the Sugar
Between them, Taylor and Evan Lewis-Battey play softball, soccer, and basketball (and Taylor dances). Each has one practice a day. Their interstitial snacking consists of candy bars, cookies, or fruit roll-ups."That's fairly typical" of the diets of active kids today, says Nancy Clark, a sports nutritionist and author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. But, she says, even though the snacks are suboptimal, "you have to look at the overall diet," not just the sugary portions. The best current nutritional science suggests that "about 10 percent of calories can be sugar," she says. Since active children should be consuming around 2,000 calories a day, she says, that leaves them about a 200-calorie daily sugar allowance. The remaining calories should be more nutritional. For snacking, stock peanut butter, English muffins, yogurt, raisins, and cut-up fruit and vegetables. And avoid blanket prohibitions. "There's no science showing that forbidding sugar or anything else is healthy or desirable," Clark says. "Everyone will be better off if you allow treats but encourage healthful meals that reduce the desire for sweets."
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