By: Dale Barr Featured in: Looking Good Magazine
Does this sound familiar? You have a long day at work, just a coffee for breakfast, skip lunch, come home and get dinner ready for the kids but nothing for yourself. So what do you do? You end up eating the leftover chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese and chase it down with a glass of wine or two. Or, you stop to grab something for dinner on the way home, say chicken tenders and some fries for the kids and you just “have a few” for yourself.
Eating a healthy diet is difficult if you have limited food choices, bad habits, a tight schedule and parenting obligations. Many people think they can make up for their poor food choices by spending extra time in the gym. A fact: You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. It’s simply not possible. Many factors go into being fit and healthy: sleep, stress management, exercise and nutrition to name a few. The last one, nutrition, affects all of the others and is 80 percent of the game.
All of the difficulties of eating well are multiplied when taking into account our children. It’s easy as parents to skip our own needs because we’re so busy in all of our other tasks. Parenting is already high stress and when we add in lack of sleep and not eating (or eating poorly) we’re on the track to being overweight. Remember that small and healthy choices add up and can make all the difference in the long run.
At our home we try to plan our meals each week, and yet we still look forward to getting out of the house for dinner and treating ourselves occasionally. As a parent, I look at restaurants differently, especially when it comes to the “kids menu.” By and large the choices are laughable. With such staples as chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza and hot dogs, all with a side of French fries and juice to drink, it’s no wonder we have a childhood obesity problem in our country.
Here are a few strategies our family uses to eat healthy and stay fit with the unforgiving schedule of working parents:
BE PREPARED – This is far and away the most important and all-encompassing rule. Try to decide your meals and prep them each week, prepare meals that can be made quickly, and have meals or snacks available that can bridge time gaps.
For example, we use Sunday to grocery shop and decide our menu for the week. Then we prep or pre-cook as many of the meals as we can. That saves us time during the week when we’re trying to get kids into the bath and bed and are short on time to make dinner. Trying to decide what we should eat as it gets later and later in the evening eliminates many healthy choices. If we’ve already cooked a few chicken breasts Sunday night for our “emergency” meals during the week, we can just warm them up quickly with some veggies and we’ve got a great meal for all of us.
Make sure you have healthy foods that get you from work, school or practice to home. We’ve been driving home with the boys and they’re so hungry they’re crying and screaming in the backseat. We’re hungry and cranky too and if we don’t do something now we may just drive off of a bridge (kidding)! Fast food isn’t the answer, so we make sure to have apples, grass-fed beef jerky, almonds and cashews with us at all times. This doesn’t seem like much but it has gotten us through many meltdowns with hungry boys. If it’s post-practice for older children or post-workout for you, have a protein shake or something similar to help speed recovery until your next meal.
FEED THEM WHAT YOU EAT – Kids can be picky, but they’re also a blank slate and malleable when it comes to food. You don’t have to limit them to only foods you like, or only foods on the “kids menu.” When we eat out we feed our kids from our plates or we order them an adult meal to split. A steak Caesar salad or chicken avocado sandwich is far better than hot dogs or macaroni. Don’t dumb down what you’re eating to placate to them. Chicken nuggets are easy, but so is a roasted or grilled chicken breast. Conversely, don’t use your child as an excuse to order the macaroni for your indulgence.
MAKE THEM TRY FOODS MULTIPLE TIMES – My wife likes to say a kid needs to try a food ten times before we give up on it. I’m not sure where she got this rule, but it’s served us well. There will be foods the kids don’t like, sure, but they seem to be few and far between. If you keep presenting a food in a variety of ways your child will at some point eat it. Other than spicy foods we have yet to come across much of anything our kids won’t eat.
GET HELP – Try one of the many outlets that do the shopping or cooking for you. There are a lot of good, reputable companies at different price points that do everything from grocery shop to prepare and cook meals for you. Power Supply, Plated, Green Chef, Relay Foods and Blue Apron are a just a few. For us, if we spend $70 for two nights worth of healthy, organic food delivered to our door and it keeps us from eating out at a restaurant then we’ve saved money and eaten better.
Eating a balanced, healthy diet is a challenge we all face and is a major part of the fitness equation. Raising children can make this battle even more daunting. Use these tips and ideas to lessen the stressful, last minute choices that can undermine a healthy lifestyle and help your family navigate this daily challenge. Just in time for the holidays, too!
Dale Barr is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE), as well as a Certified Venice Nutrition Coach and CrossFit Level I and CrossFit Endurance Coach. For more information visit d3fitness.com.