Clean Eating for Busy Families

Mother cutting her daughter's food
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First, what is clean eating? It sounds simple, but when something sounds simple, it rarely is, right? In this case, though, it actually is fairly straightforward.

Basically, you stick with foods that are closest to their natural state. And the shorter the ingredient list for packaged foods, the better. No food groups are eliminated in clean eating, which is definitely a highlight.  How amazing would it be to teach our children that this way of eating is the goal for how they should eat most of the time?

To get started (or to review if you are familiar with clean eating), here are some foods to avoid:

  • Refined foods, including refined grains
  • Heavily processed foods
  • Foods with added fat, sodium, and/or sugar/sweeteners
  • Foods with preservatives
  • Foods with colorings

With the foods to avoid out of the way, what can you eat?

  • Fresh meat, poultry, and seafood
  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • 100% whole grain products
  • Dairy products or dairy alternatives without added flavorings/sugar

Can you cook your food or would that make it “processed?” The answer is yes, you can cook your food.  Steaming, roasting, baking, and broiling are the ideal options.  When cooking, the goal is to maintain the integrity of the food.

Following a Clean Eating Diet

So how can you follow this if your family is running between school, soccer, football, and violin lessons all in one day? You definitely can do it, and it helps to put some thought and planning into it.

Some ideas for how you can incorporate clean eating into your busy life include:

  • Stock up on healthy foods by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. This allows you to have on hand items that you can use to whip up something fabulous. 
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables (with no additions, like cheese sauce) and frozen fruit for when you need convenience.
  • Set aside time to look at your calendar and think of meals for the week so that you limit your amount of time in the grocery store and are ready to cook in the amount of time that you’ll have. And don’t forget to incorporate meals that you have previously cooked and frozen for those impossible to cook nights.
  • Buying dried beans and cooking them yourself is a great clean option. We all know that cooking dried beans takes longer than opening a can, but making a pot of beans and freezing the beans into portions turn them into a quick dinner. And the crock pot is a great resource for making beans when you aren’t available to watch them.
  • If you enjoy salads, a time-saving way to have them is by making several mason jar salads on Sunday to use as a quick lunch or dinner during the week. You can whip up a homemade balsamic vinaigrette to use for the week too.
  • Pasta salad is a great fast and filling meal. Fill it with whole wheat noodles, wonderful fresh vegetables, possibly some cheese and/or leftover chicken, and toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and herbs.
  • Make several servings of your protein of choice, for example, chicken, and freeze to use in future recipes to reduce cooking time and the time needed to shop for fresh poultry.
  • Look for ways to save time during the week by chopping carrot sticks to use throughout the week, hard cooking eggs, prepacking snacks, etc. What else do you use often? Can it be prepped early?
  • When you are chopping seasoning vegetables (like onion, celery, bell pepper, and carrots), chop several and freeze for a huge timesaver.
  • When you make a freezer friendly meal, double it so that you have a meal to freeze for another day.

Preparing for the weeks meals is helpful in so many ways. You’ll be able to eat healthier (and cleaner) without spending tons of time in the kitchen, have the items you need on hand, avoid fast food or prepackaged frozen dinner runs, and provide the nourishment that your family needs.

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