– For You and Your Family
By Bushra Bajwa
Traditional home-cooked family meals are too
important to become a thing of the past. I feel healthy and good about
myself after eating a nutritious meal prepared at home, knowing all the
fresh ingredients that went in to it. What’s more, after a busy day,
sitting down with my family and catching up with each other is a fun and
relaxing time to look forward to.
Healthy Home-Cooked Meals
Who doesn’t like to snack
on donuts, ice cream, or fries when out of the house? And isn’t it easy
to feed kids macaroni and cheese, fast-food burgers, or a pizza for
their dinner? That’s because these things, like most convenience foods,
are instantly gratifying and time-saving! But when we remind ourselves
of the ammonia, excess salt, trans fats, and many other harmful
substances that we may be consuming, we can aim to make better decisions
for the benefit of our health.
We can sustain a healthier diet
through home-cooked meals. Meals and snacks prepared at home can
eliminate our consumption of unnecessary chemicals and extra ingredients
that are found in convenience foods. And when our meals are well planned
and prepared, they can provide us with good nutrition. The key is to get
a balanced diet and in order to achieve this goal I like to keep an
image of a nutritional guide (such as one suggested by the government,
doctor, or nutritionist) in the back of my mind as I plan my family’s
meals. That way, I can make sure we are eating a variety of foods to
supply the nutrients we need and also the right amount of calories to
maintain a healthy weight.
Another advantage of home-cooked
meals I like is that I can cater each meal to our individual dietary
needs. I’m often anemic, so I like to get plenty of iron-rich foods. I
also make sure I add enough fiber to my son’s diet so that he does not
get constipated. And if you have diabetes, a family history of
osteoporosis, or any other special dietary requirement, you too can
focus on eating the right foods for you and eliminating the bad ones.
Some Tips for Grocery Shopping
Shop in natural and organic grocery stores
– buying ready-made sauces or meals from here can be an option
Go to a farmer’s market – for fresh whole
foods harvested at the peak of their taste and nutritional
Shop the peripheries – in most supermarket
fresh produce lines the walls and processed foods dominate the
Pick a variety of different colored fruit
and vegetables – each color has its own benefits
Choose whole-grain – minimize consumption
of white flour
Buy precut, frozen or canned fruit and
vegetables – to help save time
Check ingredients. Avoid products:
That contain high fructose corn syrup,
That contain MSG,
If sugar is listed in the top three ingredients,
That contain other ingredients that you cannot pronounce and do
not recognize as food (i.e. a chemical).
The Value of Family Meals
Home-cooked family meals go further
than good nutrition. Family meals can contribute to a stronger familial
bond. It is great to have a time in the day when all the family gets
together. This can foster closer parent-child and sibling relationships.
It also lets children know they have a support network where they can
share concerns and successes. This can also help them better deal with
challenges like peer pressure.
A sit-down family meal is also a
great way to enhance spoken communication skills, an important tool
which is often neglected in today’s digital world. Younger children can
learn simple manners such as taking turns to speak, listening to others,
and saying please and thank you. And as they get older, children can
practice how to talk about themselves and what happened during their day
as well as discuss general interest topics and current affairs. Learning
how to be a good conversationalist starts at home.
Making Home-Cooking Possible
I’m sure you agree that a nutritious
meal prepared at home is the healthiest option for your family. But for
most of us, the greatest challenge to a better diet is having the time
to prepare meals ourselves. So here are a few tips and suggestions for
busy parents on how to make cooking at home a part of your lifestyle:
I find that my trip to the grocery store is the make or break of my
healthy diet. If I add a bag of frozen fries, a bottle of soda, or a
tub of ice cream to my cart, there is no reason for me not to
consume this when I get home. The key is not to let junk food enter
your home. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy snack
food such as strawberries, crackers and cheese, and fruit yogurts.
And buy healthy ingredients to use in cooking such as a variety of
vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. That
way, no matter how hungry you and your kids are, and how short you
may be on time, you’re only option for eating is good, wholesome
Plan your meals ahead of
time. It’s very tempting to order a pizza or stick some
frozen chicken nuggets in the oven if you haven’t planned anything
for dinnertime, it’s 6pm, and the kids are hungry. Also, sometimes I
have a great meal idea, but when I step into the kitchen I find that
I am missing some of the ingredients I need. I find it really helps
to have my week’s meals planned out ahead of time. That way I can
get everything I need from the grocery store in one weekly trip.
Also, I know what preparation I need to do for each meal ahead of
time and how long it will take. Planning is a great way to ensure
that a busy schedule does not take you off track!
children in a fun way! This is another great bonding
tool. Find tasks that are fun and suitable for their age, such
as mixing the granola or playing a game such as who can find the
most fillings to put in their sandwich. This can be fun for the
kids, reduce your workload, and get children in the habit of
Make your own cookbook.
Like any skill, cooking requires researching, experimenting and
revision. Try a few different recipes before you find some that work
best for you and your family. Try to come up with at least 20 good
recipes for your family so that you can go about three weeks without
any repeats. Add variety in terms of ingredients, type of cuisine,
and method of cooking so you don’t get bored. Once you have your set
of tried and tested recipes, you don’t have to spend so much time
thinking about what to cook, finding a recipe, and making
appropriate modifications for your family.
Simplicity is the key. The best
part of my recipe book is my “super” one-dish recipes that are quick
to prepare, contain ingredients that I always have at home, and are
nutritious and taste delicious. As there is already so much to do
each day, we do not want to add to our to-do lists with a complex
meal idea. For this reason, keep it simple. That way cooking does
not have to be another chore.
One meal for everyone. I find it
really helps to have my 18-month-old son eat the same food as we do
and at the same time as us. This way I do not have to cook two
separate meals, and dinnertime does not span the entire evening. You
might have to make some adjustments though. For example, since my
son cannot eat food as spicy as my husband and I, I cut back on the
chili, or add it later to our plates. Also, my husband and I have
gotten in the routine of having an earlier dinner.
A healthy diet for our families
requires time and effort but, when we consider the benefits to our
health, the investment is well-worth it! Home-cooked meals are also
important to foster happy communication around the dinner table and
instill lifelong healthy eating habits in our children. The above
tips can help make home-cooked meals a part of your lives.
I make this for my husband and this amount usually
lasts him about a month.
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups sliced and silvered almonds
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Toss the oats and nuts together in a large bowl. Place oil and honey in
a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour the liquids over the oat
mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the oats and nuts are
coated. Pour into a 13 by 18 by 1-inch sheet pan. Bake, stirring
occasionally with a spatula, until the mixture turns a nice, even,
golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Remove the granola from the oven and allow to cool, stirring
occasionally. Store in an air-tight container.
Serve as follows:
Place half a cup of blueberries, half a banana, and a diced peach (or other fruits of your choice)
in a cereal bowl. Add 2 tbsp yogurt. Add 1 tbsp honey. Top with 3/4 cup granola. Or if limited
for time, just eat with plain yogurt.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tomatoes finely chopped
2 onions finely chopped
Half a red pepper finely chopped
1.5 cups rice
3 cups vegetable stock
Pinch of saffron
Half a cup of peas
Half a cup of sweet corn
Salt and pepper
Place olive oil in a saucepan. Add the tomatoes and
onions. Fry for about 5 minutes on medium heat until soft, add the
peppers add fry for two minutes. Add the rice. Stir well and add the
stock. Bring to the boil then add saffron, peas and sweet corn. Season
to taste. Simmer on low heat for 12 minutes.
Grilled Salmon with a Spinach Salad
Place olive oil in an ovenproof dish. Add half a
teaspoon garlic, some lemon juice, and salt and pepper according to
taste. Place 1lb salmon in the dish, skin up and cover with foil. Bake
at 400F for 20 mins, turning the salmon over half way and removing the
Place 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon sugar
in a salad bowl. Add 5oz fresh spinach, one can mandarin oranges
(without the liquid), half a cup of sweetened cranberries and half a cup
of chopped pecans. Toss and refrigerate.
Bushra Bajwa lives in Issaquah, WA with her husband
and 18 month old son. She works as a freelance writer and blogs on
health, fitness and beauty for women at