I’m no cook. I wish I had two or three hours each day to plan and prepare my family’s meals—but I don’t. I’m really busy, but I do manage to eat healthy without a personal chef. When time permits on the weekends, my family cooks together and enjoys some pretty amazing vittles. However, Monday through Thursday, between work, triathlon training, soccer, piano, Crossfit Kids, after-school events, and more work, we rely on a limited palate of quick, go-to meals that helps maintain our clean-eating habits. Here are eight ways to keep your wholesome habits on track despite being perpetually overscheduled.
1. Plan ahead.When you have down time, prepare healthy food and then freeze or store it. Standard fare in the Ward family includes frozen soups, veggie burgers (stay tuned: I can’t wait to post my ultimate veggie burger recipe), and vegetable lasagna. Stash the extra servings in the fridge and then heat and eat when you’re in a hurry. We also look at our weekly schedule and tentatively plan meals based on our activities. A little foresight can save a tremendous amount of time in the kitchen and will help keep your healthy habits on track.
2. Gobble down the green stuff. One constant at our house is eating our greens. Each night we enjoy lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, peppers, carrots, broccoli, and other green veggies in a salad. Over the years we’ve dropped the dressing and revel in the richness of natural flavors. I encourage you to do the same and set aside some stomach space for a daily salad. If you’re pairing your salad with a main course, ditch the cheese and croutons and conserve calories. Add olives, capers, fresh lemon juice, and sliced nuts such as heart-healthy almonds for additional flavor.
3. Slurp a smoothie everyday. Our family starts each day by fueling up on a fruit and vegetable smoothie. (Click here to read my previous blog dedicated to smoothies.) It’s simply the easiest way to consume three to four healthful servings of fruits and veggies per day. To boost protein, try adding a protein powder, such as Plant Fusion. One scoop provides 21 grams of plant-based protein in a scant 117 calories. Be sure to keep the vegetable-to-fruit ratio at one-to-one or more veggies if possible. Baby spinach is my favorite early-morning green.
If you’re trying to sneak wholesome food into your children’s diet, start their morning with a smoothie—feel free to give it a fun name. We call our veggie-filled concoctions “Grinch Smoothies.” We recently hosted a birthday sleepover for our 9-year-old daughter. We served our young guests Grinch Smoothies without revealing what was in them. Every girl downed the smoothie and asked for more. When we asked them if they liked spinach, only one girl responded she was a fan. Lesson learned: Children have preconceived notions about what they like or don’t like. Break them. It’s for their own well-being.
We also drink smoothies for dinner on crazy weeknights. The choice between fast food or a smoothie is pretty simple from a health viewpoint. Try serving a super-healthy smoothie with a green salad. You’ll be surprised how full you’ll feel. (It’s not uncommon for my wife, Laura, and I to drink a dinner smoothie one or two nights a week.) Your waistline, cholesterol level, and blood pressure will thank me later.(Click here to continue to the next page.)
4. Gluten-free is the way to be. My older daughter and wife have been tested gluten-sensitive, so we all bypass wheat gluten in our daily eating. One of my favorite lunchtime staples is a gluten-free bread made by a small bakery, Deland Bakery, in Florida. They produce the best-tasting, gluten-free bread this side of the Atlantic. I prefer their zucchini millet bread topped with organic almond butter for my midday meal. I encourage you to check out all of Deland Bakery’s varieties. Don’t forget the old truism, “The whiter the bread, the quicker you’re dead.”
5. Spice up taco Tuesdays. Let’s face it, there are nights when you have 15 minutes to put something on the table. When you need a heat-and-eat kind of meal, try assembling lentil tacos. Simply heat up lentil beans, mash them, add spices, and you’ve got a more wholesome taco base than fried meat or greasy bean paste. Add a little nut cheese (almond or cashew are my faves) and add spinach, lettuce, and other low-calorie toppings. Serve this alongside a spinach or green salad with vinaigrette dressing, sparkling water, and a dessert cube of dark chocolate and you’ve got four-star ethnic eating at its fastest.
6. Rice can be nice. You already know I’m a fan of Vita-Mix blenders. I’m almost as attached to my authentic Chinese rice cooker. I’ve shared my adult life with two Zojirushi rice cookers and love them both dearly. During my first trip to mainland China five years ago, I was amazed how ubiquitous these counter top devices were in the homes of my hosts. They’re simpler to operate than a slow cooker. You simply add rice and water, set the timer, and when you return home you’ll have perfect rice every time. You’re then free to stir-fry the rice or simply add green goodness such as fresh broccoli, kale, spinach, and seaweed spiced with a splash of tahini. For fun we eat our rice in traditional Chinese rice bowls with chopsticks. This is Chinese food you don’t have to feel guilty about.
7. Top secret “tortillas.” I’ve got a confession: My daughters believe they’re eating real tortillas—so don’t rat me out. We actually make a super-quick and much healthier version of the traditional Mexican tortilla at the Ward house. In simple terms we take a Sami’s Bakery millet and flax lavash, top the bottom one with white beans and a dash of sea salt and garlic, baby spinach, and cheese. Place the other lavash on top and brown until each side is golden. It’s hard to roll the lavash without it tearing so we cut each lavash into quarters and serve.(Click here to continue to the next page.)
8. Nearly guilt-free pizza. Thirty minutes is too long to wait on pizza for the early-to-bed Ward family. Every Friday night is pizza party night and we’ve got games to play, so we’ve got to get our gustation on. An inexpensive, time-saving, and healthy option is . We also make our own pizza by taking a gluten-free crust and topping it with nut cheeses, sliced tomatoes, spinach, and whatever else we have handy. You’ll feel much better after eating a healthy homemade pizza than if you’d chowed down a highly processed junk-food delivery pie.
Here are more ideas for your new healthy lifestyle.
Zucchini spaghetti: Make it with tomato sauce (not high fructose corn syrup) using a vegetable slicer. We stumbled across this handy Japanese device a few years ago after a fabulous raw meal in New York. You will be surprised at how good veggie pastas can be!
Fresh food on a plate: Quinoa, greens, cucumbers, red and yellow peppers, and sweet potatoes thrown on a plate make a great meal. It’s super-healthy, inexpensive, and easy to make—did I mention the throw-on-a-plate part? Too often Americans think we must have a huge dinner with stick-to-your-ribs foods. Baloney! Get back to simple foods. Reset your views on what dinner should be. Focus on fresh.
Guacamole toast: Step one: Mash avocados then mix sea salt, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice all together to make guacamole. Step two: Smear on toast and eat for breakfast or lunch. This is our older daughter’s staple. She’s recently been allowed to prepare her own breakfast (aside from my super smoothies—that’s an art, remember?) and this is what she makes at least three mornings a week. Try it. You’ll really like it! Think outside the cereal box.
This is just a glimpse into how the Ward family tries to balance wholesome eating with frantic schedules. Try to incorporate fresh, real foods into each day—the more the healthier. If you’re stuck in a rut of unwrapping your meals, start by making at least one meal a day a real one. I’d love to hear your ideas and how you stay healthy when life is hectic. Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/DrErnieWard.