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Eight healthy eating tips for busy parents

Just a few weeks until the end of term and I am clinging on for dear life. September started out so well. I was laying out uniforms the night before, diligently supervising homework, packing prize-winning lunches … where did it all go wrong?

With just 19 days to go, I am pulling school shirts out of the wash, have lost the reading logs, can't remember who needs what and have completely lost the plot when it comes to lunch.

Last night, I realised the apple I was eating was the only other candidate left for extra fruit. No raisins, nothing frozen, not even a lonely pot of apple sauce on that whirly thing in the corner cupboard. I chopped around my bite marks and popped the rest in the boxes for the girls. I also had to rescue the few intact pieces of a granola bar from a forgotten, crushed offering at the bottom of my bag. I used it to pad out the one wrap I had managed to assemble from the contents of our empty fridge. Compare this to the wild smoked salmon sandwiches and organic blueberries from week one. How have the mighty fallen…

I'm not quite sure why I'm so excited for the end of term though. Summer holidays are often more of a challenge. We do have two weeks off, but otherwise the girls are in summer camps. That's even more tricky with a new routine every week. The likelihood of us being in the wrong place at the wrong time is high. But I do finish work earlier in the holidays. Shorter hours, more play, no homework (yay!) … there will definitely be more down time and I can't wait.

In case you didn't know, “busy” isn't cool anymore. We've seen article after article encouraging work-life balance. The people who are acing the game are those who work more efficiently, not longer or harder. I'm a huge work-in-progress in this area. I'm trying to stop racing from one thing to the next. The juggle of work and home commitments is, as ever, a challenge. Whether you are a busy parent because you work, or you are busy parent because you are a parent, there's no doubt that nutrition can suffer along the way. With little time for planning or cooking, when searching for the path of least resistance and when trying (here comes the ultimate goal) to keep everyone happy, we all make compromises.

I am by no means perfect, but here are a few things that I have learnt along the way. Even if you only do some of them, they'll make life in the fast lane a little easier and a lot more nutritious.

Nutrition tips for busy parents:

1. You first. Yikes, so difficult, especially (and I know I am generalising) for the mums out there. So many of us have “back-burner syndrome”. Imagine you're so focused on all the other pans on the stove that you forget about the one simmering away at the back. You come back to it later to find a burnt-out mess. Sound familiar? One of the biggest tips I have is to prioritise your own nutrition. Eat breakfast, snack well. Don't save the berries for the children — have some, too! Every single person around you will benefit when you are feeling your best.

2. Sleep well. When you sleep you produce a hormone called leptin that helps to regulate energy balance and appetite. If you are low on sleep you will be low on leptin, causing you to crave more carbohydrates and be less likely to burn fat for energy purposes. Upshot? You'll be more likely to snack on sugary, refined carbs and you may find it hard to manage your weight. Food ends up being a struggle. No one needs that!

3. Ignore the categories. We often restrict our choices by sticking to “breakfast food”, or likewise, traditional lunch and dinner options. There's nothing wrong with having leftovers for breakfast — or cereal for lunch if that makes life easier. I keep a box of cereal at work (usually Nature's Path mesa sunrise and whatever low GL granola I can find) for when I am short on time (often). I load it up with whatever nuts/seeds I have in my bag for the extra protein.

4. Keep snacks in your bag. On that note, keep portable snacks in your bag and at your desk. In Bermuda, you need things that won't attract ants or suffer in the heat. Ziplocks or pots of nuts/seeds and Sheffa bars (Miles or Devil's Isle) are good options. I usually have almonds and the Made Good granola bars (Supermart, Lindo's and Down to Earth) in my bag for the children. I also carry xylitol-based gum (eg Pur or the xylitol Glee gum) when I am trying to hold the children off to a better snack or dinner at home.

5. Have a grocery store policy. I often shop on the way home from school with the children in tow. At 8 and 5 they're great helpers and we can get everything together in no time. But they're often hungry and it's hard to make healthy choices when they are surrounded by candy and Froot Loops. Being consistent with what I say yes or no to has really helped and taken the battle away. Every other week they have a Danish pastry. Otherwise, it's a bread roll, fruit pouch or an apple.

6. The one-pan wonder. It's great if dinner is pre-prepared when you get home. Crock-pots are fabulous for that! But, I still have a hard time doing it routinely. Being able to produce something healthy in ten minutes is therefore handy, in which case it's either scrambled eggs on wholewheat toast, or “pasta hummus”. The pasta dish is a real one-pan wonder — just boil the pasta, drain and then stir in hummus (approx 1 TBS per person) and a good quality tomato pasta sauce. It's creamy, filling and quick! Serve with steamed green veg, cut up veggie sticks or salad.

7. Have good backups in your freezer. If you have enough time, then freezer options don't always have to be trashy. Try the Blue Horizon wild salmon burgers or bites (Supermart), Applegate chicken tenders or Hilary's Eat Well veggie/bean burgers.

8. Blitz it or bake it. If everything else goes to hell, round off or start the day with a smoothie stuffed full of secretly healthy things. Spinach, nuts/seeds, nut butter, avocado ... all of them taste good once they're whizzed together with a frozen banana and a few berries. Choose a milk as your mixer rather than juice to drastically cut down on sugar. Try my carrot cake muffins or Nutrifit banana bread for baked options packed full of the good stuff. Recipes on Facebook!

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Note she is not a registered dietitian. For details, go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda

Healthy and handy: scrambled eggs on wholewheat toast

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Published June 10, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 09, 2016 at 8:34 pm)

Eight healthy eating tips for busy parents

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