It’s 5:30pm. Your kids’ soccer practice starts in 15 minutes. You’ve barely gotten your foot in the door before the barrage of demands for your time and attention begins. Lil’ Suzie needs help with homework. Bobby Jr. wants to practice his batting swing in the living room.Husband Larry is wondering what’s for dinner. Chances are if you’re like most, you head for the fast and efficient livestock corral known as your local fast food drive-thru window. The $.99 menu beckons to your wallet and your sensibilities with its cheap, easy fare. I mean, what else could you get for less than a dollar in such a short amount of time these days? Certainly nothing healthy, right?
The truth is that you can create healthy, affordable meals for your family in less time than it takes to drive to your local fast food joint!
Stop, It’s Hammer Time: Step 1 – Sit Down!
In your new mission to provide your family with the healthiest, fastest meals known to man, the first step is to sit down! Yes! Take out a piece of paper and a pencil and actually PLAN OUT what you’re going to eat for the week! Your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners should all contain a protein, slow-burning carb (sweet potatoes are cheap, fast, and readily accessible this time of year) and some good-quality fats.
A sample day could look like this:
- 1 cup Banana Walnut Oatmeal with Wheat Germ and Flax Seed
- 30g of Fruit
- 1oz Raw Almonds
- 1 Serving of Tossed Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
- 1 Grilled Chicken Breast
- 1 Slice of Whole Grain Toast
- 1 Protein Shake with Either Low Fat Milk or Water
- 1 Pork Tenderloin
- 1 Serving Broccoli
- 1 Serving Mashed Sweet potatoes with Light Butter
Then create your grocery list based on what you’ll need from the meals you’ve planned!
Grocery List For The Week:
- Walnuts and Almonds (Get ‘em in bulk and save a bundle)
- Wheat Germ and Flax-seed (Available at most mega-marts)
- Can of Fruit in Water (Again, buy in bulk to cut down on prep time and cost)
- Salad Fixings (6 heads of Romaine are available for bulk purchases and will last you all week)
- Dressing (skip the Cream-Based ones and go for the Low-Sugar Vinaigrette)
- Chicken and Pork Tenderloin (Buy both in Bulk)
- Bread (some Dollar Stores get shipments of Bread twice a week. A loaf of Bread for $1.00!)
- Protein Powder
- Milk (1% or Fat Free)
- Sweet Potatoes
Now you’re ready to go grocery shopping!
Grocery Shopping: Clean Up On Aisle 3!
I prefer to go grocery shopping once a week, getting all the materials I’ll need on Thursday for the week ahead. I load up the trunk of my car with coolers and icepacks and head to my local Sam’s Club or Costco (whatever bulk foods store is in your area).
You’ll discover that most of the meat on your list can be purchased in bulk for the same price or less than in your local grocery store!
The coolers are to ensure my meat stays a safe temperature for the ride home. But remember, you aren’t in the food storage business – you’re in the food eating business! So don’t buy more than you’ll use in a week. Freezers tend to change the texture and consistency of most meats.
And don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list! You’ve allotted for all snacks and meals – so no extra cookies, cakes, or pies should wind up in your cart! (Note: this’ll cut down on your at-home munchies too!) Average total grocery bill for a family of 5? Approximately $110.00 a week. (That’s $2.86 per meal, per person) Step 1 in the Cheap/Fast/Healthy Nutrition Challenge? Done.
Sunday morning dawns bright and early! After breakfast, the oven is preheated and the food preparation can begin! All of the chicken is placed onto a large baking sheet, seasoned with salt, pepper, or whatever other seasoning you choose and cooked all at once. (Yes, for the whole week’s worth of lunches!)
The pork tenderloin is run through the meat slicer (available at your local Bed, Bath, and Beyond) to create pork chops which will later be placed on the same baking sheet to cook all at once as well (once the chicken is done).
The veggies for the salad are “processed” while the meat is cooking. The lettuce is chopped to prepare for salads and portioned out to ensure that any ‘grab and go’ lunches are 90% done before they’re needed. Don’t forget the zip-top baggies! While you’re waiting on the meat to cool before storing, go ahead and portion out your snacks as well!
That #10 can of fruit you got in bulk can be drained (and rinsed if soaked in “light fruit juice”) and put into baggies or small Tupperware containers next to its companion almonds or walnuts for easy-to-grab snacks for the whole family! By the time lunch rolls around on Sunday afternoon, 90% of your cooking for the week has been accomplished.
My Family Will Never Go For That
The idea of having the same lunch for every single day of the week may be daunting…and you assume it’ll get old. But, here are three things to consider:
1. Home Prepared Vs. Fast Food
If you told your family they were having burgers and fries from McArches for a solid week of lunches, would they complain? Would it be any different than what they’re getting now? Chances are they already have similar items for many of the same meals during the week. This isn’t that much different than what you’re already giving them (just healthier…)
2. Taking Out the Guess Work
You’re eliminating the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” as well as the headache that comes with figuring out what new and inventive meal you can throw together at the last second. (And let’s be honest – won’t the hassle of scrambling to figure out what to eat be EVERY SINGLE NIGHT worth getting off your plate with everything else you try to do in a day?)
3. Setting An Example
Tough love alert! This is a lifestyle change you’ve made for yourself and your family. Children look to their parents to learn what’s best for them. If children were able to be self-sufficient from the womb, they’d be hatched like snakes and no longer need adult supervision. But they aren’t.
Kids need parents who are willing to show them a healthier alternative to the junk they’re being fed by school cafeterias and on television commercials. By demonstrating a willingness to eat the right foods more often, you’re setting an example that’ll keep them off The Biggest Loser and on the right track to a longer life as well!
That being said, recognizing that chicken for lunch CAN get a bit dull after a while; here are a few tips to change up your meals:
Melt a small jar of apricot jelly and add some finely diced jalapeno peppers (seeds removed!) on the stove until some of the water has evaporated and the sauce is a bit thicker than it was originally (keep stirring during this process – the sugar in the apricots can burn easily!) Store in a microwave safe container and spoon over top your chicken for a Sweet and Spicy alternative!
2. Dice Your Food
Dice your chicken and add it TO your salad instead of on the side (Hey, it works for McArches, right? And theirs are made well in advance of you ordering it!).
3. Barbecue Sauce
Low-sugar BBQ sauce can add a boost of flavor to your chicken without a lot of extra calories (just watch your sugar intake). Or try a BBQ-flavored rub on your chicken before you cook it on Sunday for a week of yummy BBQ flavor without the hassle!
Putting It All Together
Now that you’ve pre-cooked your meals and portioned them out, it’s time for a challenge! You and your spouse stand in your living room. One person heads for the kitchen while the other heads for the car. The one in the car should drive to your local go-to drive-through and order what you’d customarily get for the whole family.
The one heading for the kitchen can break out the pre-cooked pork tenderloin and reheat (not re-cook! Then it’d be overdone), throw a couple of peeled sweet Potatoes in the microwave (and cook for about 5 minutes. Individual cooking times will vary) then mash with a little bit of low-fat butter, alongside a cup of freshly steamed broccoli (most can go straight from freezer or fridge to microwave with a splash of water in the bottom of the container for steaming).
Chances are, the person in the kitchen will be done with dinner and ready to serve before the person in the car can say, “I’d like fries with that.” Now you’ve cooked a healthy meal for your family in less than 15 minutes, under 450 calories, and under $15 for the entire meal (without any added preservatives or unnecessary ingredients to boot!) Find that on any local dollar menu – I dare you!
Author: Rachel Young