Maria Miglioretti: Food Fast, Not Fast Food

Back to school is often linked with a return to routine for many families. The transition from summer to a more traditional schedule is also a great time embrace healthier eating habits. Whether you are ready to commit to a lifetime of better eating or are just looking for a few new ideas, here are some strategies to help you save money and time on your way to better health through food.

Start the Day Right

It might be clichť, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Not only does it get your body energized for the day ahead, it helps prevent that late morning slump that leaves your childís tummy rumbling and you heading for the nearest snack machine at work.

One of the best ways to fuel up for a busy morning is a breakfast of hot cereal, but donít think this is your motherís boring oatmeal. Todayís hot cereals feature a variety of whole grains and toppings, and the possibilities are endless when you learn to put together customizable bowls.

Start with a grain like oats, millet, barley, quinoa or bulgur. They each have their own unique texture and taste and are all nutrient dense. Then add a liquid like almond or hemp milk (unsweet is best). Next, layer on fresh, leftover or dried fruits or veggies for flavor, texture and even more nutrition. Lastly add some crunch, spice and zest with nuts and seeds, a dash of cinnamon or drop of vanilla. Worried about time in the morning? You can prepare hot cereals in a slow cooker overnight or mix it all together to soak in the fridge while you sleep for a quick reheat in the morning.

Make lunch time count

When it comes to eating a healthy lunch, a little planning goes a long way to better health. When you eat mostly whole foods, youíll spend more time preparing meals than you would reheating convenient frozen foods that are often loaded with calories but lacking in nutrition. That extra time spent in the kitchen is a great investment in your health.

Prep lunch ingredients ahead of time while you are cooking other meals. Get in the habit of chopping extra veggies and cooking additional greens, grains and beans. While the oven is hot, roast chicken breasts or double a batch of veggies. Speaking of batches, prepare a big batch of staple ingredients like beans and grains and incorporate them into salads, bowls and sandwiches through the week. Even whole grain muffins studded with vegetables can be made ahead, frozen and packed in a lunchbox for an easy and wholesome lunch-time treat. Lunches purchased at schools offer a balance of proteins, vegetables and bread items. If you are packing your childís lunch remember that fresh beats pre-packaged every time. For the adults in your family, baked pastas, soups and casseroles can be frozen in individual portion sizes for a hearty heat-and-serve lunch.

Dinner Dash

Evenings are busy times for most families. Between homework, dance and music lessons and athletic practices, time is in short supply. Often healthy dinner choices are often tossed out the window in favor of fast and junk foods. But with a little planning and practice, you can get good-for-you food on the table in a flash.

For the convenience of fast food without compromising good nutrition, stock your pantry and freezer with nutritious and easy-to-prepare items that you can turn into dinner in a flash. When you do have a little extra time, learn a few new recipes that can be your go-to meals for when time is really crunched.

Pantry staples include jarred pasta sauce and dried pasta, organic vegetable or chicken broth, organic corn taco shells, precooked frozen rice and quinoa, frozen fruits and vegetables, canned beans and tomatoes and flash frozen seafood. These staples can be combined in a variety of ways with fresh veggies and lean cuts of meat, chicken and fish prepared using healthier methods such as baking, grilling, steaming and poaching.

When time is really limited, shop the salad bar or prepared foods department at the grocery store for cleaned, cut greens and chopped raw veggies that can be combined with a rotisserie chicken for tacos or wraps, added to a big salad or served with scrambled, baked or poached eggs.

Commit to Change

The good news about healthy eating is that it isnít rocket science. But if you have pizza delivery on speed dial and the drive through clerk is your best friend, it will take some dedication and commitment on the front end to get started. Once you learn a few tricks and adopt a few new (and better) habits, youíll be on the right path to better health.

About the Author

Marketing team leader at the Whole Foods Market Virginia Beach store, Maria Miglioretti practices what she preaches. An avid label-reader and advocate for healthier food choices, she is mom to an active sixth-grade daughter and wife to an active duty Naval officer. She canít wait `til the day that foods free from artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners can be found in retailers all over town, not just at her employer.