By Guest Blogger Cindy Silver, MS, RDN, LDN

Good nutrition hasn’t been easy lately. In fact, it’s been impossible for many families who are stretched and stressed to the max. Kitchen routines are off-schedule and snacking is 24/7. Normal family dinners seem like past history. Stocking cut-up fruits and veggies in the fridge for healthy nibbling just hasn’t happened.  Now, it’s back to school and a perfect time to move into better quality nutrition. Here’s why: for students’ better academic performance; for a calmer household, for staying healthy in the months ahead, and for the long haul of achieving a healthier lifestyle.

As a registered dietitian, I’m convinced that when quality nutrition is on a family’s radar day-after-day, there is no down-side and the up-side is incredible. Trust me and give it a try. Here are 3 ways to put your family’s nutrition back on track this fall – without it costing more at the grocery store or overwhelming your home cooking skills.

#1 Plan Ahead

Some people plan their meals a month at a time and others plan a week at a time. If that sounds like too much then do this: Think about your meal before the meal. In other words, plan ahead even if your meal plan comes together one day in advance – or one meal in advance. It’s OK to make a fast plan.

Scheduling idea:

  • On Sunday, write down what’s coming up for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Monday
  • On Monday, write down what’s coming up for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Tuesday
  • On Tuesday, write down what’s coming up for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Wednesday

Writing down your plan is important because recycling meal plans later is super smart and it’s typically easy on the food budget, too. You can repeat entire meals 2 or 3 days apart and, if you do, consider batch cooking a dinner entrée.  Shopping for a 2-meal supply and cooking in a 2-meal batch is a time and energy saver.

#2. Make Fast and Super-Fast Meals the Norm

Professional chefs spend hours contemplating and preparing meals but everyday families don’t. With a plan to get you organized, fast and super-fast meals will save precious time and they won’t rely on boxed, processed, or costly ready-to-heat frozen foods.

Fast and balanced meal ideas

~ Easy Spaghetti and Marinara Saucesauce recipe here.

  • Side: frozen-microwaved broccoli or green beans
  • Dessert: cut-up apples dipped in peanut butter

~ Little Baked Meatballsrecipe here.

  • Sides: roasted white or sweet potato chunks and coleslaw (homemade or buy at the deli)
  • Dessert: Have fresh pear slices for dessert

~ Super Easy Mac & Cheeserecipe here.

  • Side: frozen-microwaved mixed veggies
  • Dessert: watermelon or cantaloupe wedges

~ Easy Salmonrecipe here.

  • Sides: a simple green salad and rice
  • Dessert: a tasty, seasonal pumpkin muffin

Super-fast and balanced meal ideas

  • Turkey sandwich on a whole wheat wrap with a green salad, baby carrots and an apple
  • Scrambled eggs & cheddar cheese with an English muffin and grapes
  • Super Easy Mac & Cheese (recipe above) and a banana

#3. Lower the Bar but Not Too Much

Meals are important family time so remember this as you keep it simple, serve basics, and compromise with treats. Use meal time to catch up on how your child’s day went, who wants to tell a funny joke, or who has an idea for tomorrow’s meal plan. Time around the table has been linked to so many benefits for children and good nutrition is only one of them.

Nutritious compromises

  • Make brownies only once a week and serve one square with some berries (berries add fiber.)
  • Have a water-only rule at dinner. Serve only water, no sugary drinks (water helps hydration.)
  • Make BBQ chicken tenders instead of wings (tenders add protein.)
  • Cook a frozen pizza and serve it with a colorful platter of veggies and hummus (veggies and hummus add plant nutrition and fiber.)
  • Have an afternoon DIY snack parfait of plain yogurt, cut up fruits, and crunchy granola (plain yogurt adds beneficial probiotics without added sugars.)

To sum it up, everyone in the family wins when quality nutrition comes to your meal table. So, promote keep-it-simple foods, planned into meals and snacks, and you will bring home a victory! My handy book for busy families is on sale now.

Cindy Silver is a Triad-based registered dietitian and owner of Market Basket Nutrition. She offers a variety of nutrition services including 1-on-1 virtual counseling and grocery store tours. Click here to try her free Easy Mediterranean Menus and Recipes. Reach out to her at cindy@marketbasketnutrition.com or 336-712-5239. Cindy is a nutrition services provider for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC.

Want to see more blogs like this and get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to Triad Moms on Main’s free weekly newsletters here.