Single-Parent and Working-Parent Heart Health

Daughter comforting mother

Parents: How do you create a healthy meal plan?

Time and time again, parents — especially those who are single or working — say time is their enemy when it comes to preparing healthy meals.

But you can limit frozen pizza and other processed foods — which can result in escalating obesity and chronic disease rates — with tips that are good for your heart and your wallet. Healthy eating starts with healthy food choices. And you don’t have to be a chef to create nutritious, heart-healthy meals your family will love.

The main key is time management. Difficult? Sometimes. But not impossible.

Start With A Plan

The best time to make a meal plan isn’t when you’re hungry and need to eat right away. Make a list — and check it twice.

Invest a couple of hours on the weekend to save anxiety as well as time on extra trips to the grocery store. Make large batches and freeze leftovers in individual portions for healthy, homemade, microwaveable meals.  

Get Your Kids In The Kitchen

Holly DuBois, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, gets her kids in the kitchen every chance she gets.

Her two little ones hang out on a step stool in the kitchen while she cooks and gives them small jobs. “I’ll give them plastic knives and they’ll cut stuff or get things from the pantry,” she said.

DuBois and her husband, Josh, both work in the health care profession. With a family history of obesity, they make sure their kids eat a healthy, balanced diet. But they don’t forbid treats.

“Cooking for me personally has been a fun, stress-relieving activity that I’ve grown to love,” DuBois said. “I want them to share in it and enjoy it so it’s not a burden.”

Summertime means organic produce from a community-supported agriculture co-op once a week — everything from cauliflower to eggplant to rhubarb. “The rule is that if it’s in the bag, they have to try it.”

Bresha Richardson, a busy Dallas-area mom to a kindergartner, juggles single parenting, work, volunteering for the PTA and her son’s extracurricular activities. But she still tries to make healthy eating a priority.

“I want my son to learn how bad choices can impact his body, not just now but in the future,” she said. “I try extremely hard to communicate with him about every meal he has and why a particular food may not be a good choice.”

Together, they make egg tacos one night a week. “He cracks and whisks the eggs and I slice and sauté the red pepper and warm whole-wheat or white corn tortillas,” she said. “I make it a point not to add seasonings like salt so he can taste the food for what it is.”

She also gets a head start over the weekend by getting healthy stuff ready for the hectic work week. “If I wash and cut our fruits and veggies and pre-package them, they most definitely get eaten.” 

I’m on a budget. What can I do?

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. Rice, beans, potatoes, bananas and eggs can be budget-friendly staples. You can also stretch your grocery budget by planning for a couple meatless meals each week.

Make cooking a hobby and learn to cook from scratch when it’s reasonable. As an example, oatmeal is fairly cheap and healthy. You pay a premium to have it portioned into single serving packets with flavor added when it’s simple to prepare from scratch. And many times those pre-packaged, flavored varieties contain added sugar. But when making it from scratch, you have more control over the amount of sweetener that’s added.

Buy fresh produce when it’s in season. Eat lots of citrus and apples in the winter and strawberries in the summer. If it’s not in season, buy it frozen. And if you’re interested in going organic, consider using the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen”(link opens in new window) lists by the Environmental Working Group to prioritize your purchases and save money.

My child is home alone. How can I help her eat healthy?

If you plan, it’s pretty easy to help your child make good choices without any difficulty or dangerous prep work. Here are some suggestions:

  • Peanut butter and jelly with no sugar added on whole-wheat bread
  • Grilled fish sandwich (Keep spinach and tomatoes, sliced ahead of time, handy to add flavor and nutrients.)
  • Turkey sandwich (Don’t forget your favorite veggies.)
  • Whole-grain crackers and hummus
  • Fresh fruit
  • Healthy leftovers (Microwave them for a quick, easy meal.)

And the best way to avoid junk food? Don’t stock it in the house because it’s too easy to reach for it first.

Try these four easy weeknight meals:

  • Salad night: Make a healthy bowl of greens your entrée. Toss in chicken, unsalted nuts or seeds for a little protein. Use a wide variety of fresh veggies and dark green lettuce. Skip the iceberg because it’s low on nutrients.
  • Taco night: Pile on the veggies, try low-fat, low sodium cheese and use whole-wheat or corn tortillas. You can even mix together a little Greek yogurt and lemon juice to make a healthy “sour cream.”
  • Homemade grilled pizza: Make a pizza without cheese, add some cooked diced chicken and load the veggies onto a thin, whole-wheat crust.
  • Easy vegetarian chili: Make it over baked potatoes.

As a parent, it’s important to help your children develop healthy eating habits. So try these tips for their heart health and yours.