It’s dark and a bit chilly in your bedroom, which gives your warm and cozy covers more power to pull you in. Then you feel a small finger tapping your shoulder and you hear, “Mommy?” With your eyes half open, you stumble into the kitchen to take breakfast orders. The frantic routine of preparing breakfast, unloading dishes, packing lunches and attempting to feed yourself begins. Oh, and forget about drinking warm coffee, because all the scurrying around leaves your coffee alone and cold.
I’ve been there too many times to count. The morning mad dash usually continues through dinner and stops abruptly when our heads hit the pillow. This is no way to start or end our day. As parents, we want to feed our families more real food and less processed junk, and promote good family health. We also don’t want to spend too much time making that happen. Real food can be simple, tasty, and help start our day on a better path.
I’ve learned a few tricks to make real food easy, my mornings smoother and my evenings more relaxed. With a better plan, we can get real, whole foods into our bodies for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
These five tips will empower your morning, simplify dinnertime and give you more time with your family.
1. Start earlier.
Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier (and before your kids get up). I suggest 15 minutes because I feel this is an adjustment we can all make. These extra minutes of quiet time give you the power to start your day the way you want, whether it’s with a few yoga poses, writing gratitude in your journal or drinking hot coffee in silence while staring out the window. These few slow-paced minutes will feel so good, and help set the pace for the rest of your day.
2. Make breakfast before bed.
Setting up breakfast at night takes less than five minutes and gives you more in return. Put your favorite smoothie ingredients into the blender and keep it in the fridge overnight. Then wake, blend with a few ice cubes and enjoy a freshly made smoothie with no brainpower needed. Mason jars can also be used for fruit and yogurt sundaes. Layer Greek yogurt and fresh fruit in a mason jar, close up the lid and put it in the fridge. In the morning, top it with crunchy granola (recipe below) and enjoy! Real pancakes or muffins on a weekday? Yes, it’s possible. Measure and mix together dry ingredients in a bowl and cover on the counter or in the fridge overnight. In the morning your little helpers can stir in some eggs, a little milk and you’re ready to cook. If you want it even easier, make a big batch of pancakes or muffins on Sunday and freeze them, then reheat and eat.
3. Don’t skip prep, the most important step.
So much of our serenity lies in prepping food at the beginning of the week. When food is prepped Sunday, you have less to chop, less to cook and less to clean during the week. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to wash and chop lettuce, carrots, red peppers, mangos, pineapples, etc. You could also cook a batch of quinoa, which makes a great addition to a lunch salad, or add a few herbs and reheat for a simple dinner side. Also, make a simple vinaigrette, homemade pesto or roast chicken on the weekend and your lunches are basically made for you. If you didn’t pack lunches before bed, now all you have to do is add your prepped fruits, veggies, protein and wholes grains to your kids’ lunch boxes and your own brown bag. This simplifies your week while giving you more time to enjoy a leisurely family breakfast.
4. Make appliances your allies.
Put your slow cooker and oven to work for you. This way you can throw on your pajama pants sooner. The slow cooker is a master of all things. Make an easy marinara or salsa verde chicken tacos by dropping in a few ingredients and walking away until dinner. When you’re ready for it, dinner can be thrown together in 10 minutes. Roasting is another time saver because you are not standing over the stove, stirring vegetables or continually flipping chicken. The oven does the work for you, so you can relax. Next time you’re thinking of sautéing salmon and broccoli, pop those ingredients into the oven and serve with your previously made quinoa. Now you can enjoy some down time with your family.
5. Get the kids into the kitchen.
Getting your kids into the kitchen relieves you and your partner of some duties, gives your family time together and keeps the kids from the iPad for a while. Fun family moments are made while cooking together, and even doing unwanted tasks. Music makes unloading dishes in the morning or setting the table at night more enjoyable for everyone. Even a toddler can help. If you keep plates, cups and healthy foods within their reach, the kids can also help themselves. They will love the independence, and if you have real food in the house, there is no fear they will find the Fruity Pebbles.
These simple steps can help us feed our families the real food we deserve. They can also help change our chaotic mornings and evenings into calm, happy moments with our families.
Maple Granola Recipe
2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of dried shredded unsweetened coconut
2 cups of chopped nuts and seeds (I usually use 1/2 cup walnuts, 1/2 cup almonds, 1/2 sunflower seeds and 1/2 pumpkin seeds/pepitas)
1/4 cup chia or sesame or both
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut oil or olive oil
(I do not like dried fruit in my granola, but feel free to add dried fruit after it has baked)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix together oats, coconut, nuts/seeds, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Heat oil and syrup together in a pan and then pour onto the oat mixture. Toss with spatula to coat.
Dump out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment* and get it as even and flat as possible (too-thin edges could burn). Bake for about 50 minutes (depending on your oven). You want the granola to be lightly toasted brown, but not too dark. No stirring necessary. Just let it cook, take it out and leave it on your counter to cool completely so it can harden and get chunky! After a while, break it into pieces and put it into a plastic bag or glass container.
*Having the parchment is imperative because it makes it easier to remove from the baking sheet after cooling, and helps keep a chunky granola and not a sticky mess on your baking sheet.
Jenny Blakeney is a former junk food addict, L.A. mom, and creator of the website RealFoodScout.com, a site devoted to helping families discover real food and simplify their lives.