Quicken Your Cooking

When school starts back in September, the glory days of summer fade in an instant. We’re stocking up on school supplies and new shoes and packing healthy lunches becomes another item on the daily to-do list. By the time dinner hour arrives it can be overwhelming to think up and prepare a family meal, so we often fall victim to the drive-thru or picking up a pre-made meal like a frozen pizza. Although these treats are fun now and again, if they are a regular part of the routine, we could easily be overconsuming unhealthy nutrients like sodium, sugar and saturated fat and falling short on key foods like veggies and whole grains.
We all need quick meal ideas that can be on the table in 15 or 20 minutes but making it healthy doesn’t mean it has to be completely from scratch. Using a few simple starters can add convenience to your cooking without depriving your family of important nutrients.
Take packaged soup for example, whether a can or a tetra-pak. On its own, it is incredibly high in sodium, but if we just use it as a base, we can skip some of the work of chopping aromatic ingredients like onion and garlic. Soup up these soups by adding protein from legumes like canned chickpeas or white beans. Add ½ cup of quinoa or buckwheat for a quick-cooking whole grain to fill the family up. Finally toss in any favourite veggies or what you have to use up from the fridge. Kale is easy to freeze and crumble into any soup, sauce, curry or pasta dish.
Canned fish, especially salmon, is a pantry staple that can turn into a quick meal, whether made into tuna melts or patties or added into whole grain pasta. Canned or frozen legumes are another quick protein source that can be used for nachos, quesadillas or try out our Med Spread idea and make a simple chickpea salad or buy pre-made hummus. Just try to always include vegetables for essential nutrients, like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as fibre that fills us up longer.
If you have to stop at the grocery store to get dinner on the table, consider a rotisserie chicken. At many stores the only thing added is a spice rub so they are often as simple and affordable as if you’d made it yourself. Serve immediately with a big salad and then pull off leftover chicken for sandwiches or wraps for lunch the next day or for another dinner the next night, like a simple stir-fry. Smoked tofu works well too.
Eggs are also a fast meal—think breakfast for dinner! A simple veggie scramble with whole grain avocado toast is well-balanced and takes no time to prepare. Or keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge and pop them onto a quick buddha bowl with quinoa and veggies.
Of course, one of the best strategies for a quick meal is to double-up on your cooking endeavours on another occasion, like the weekend, and freeze a batch. You could even do it as a fun family activity!

Back to School

The end of a relaxing summer and the start back into September routine can be a stressful time for all of us. One way to manage these feelings is to try to get back into a schedule and routine. Here a few things to consider:

1. Sleep—in the summer, we can quickly get out of our usual sleep routine, staying up late and sleeping in more. In the week leading up to the start of school, try to make the usual bedtime a priority and inch closer to the wake-up time that will be required for September. We may sleep less overall in the summer with longer daylight hours, but it’s so key for optimal mental and physical health to get the appropriate hours of sleep. The Canada’s 24 Hour Movement Guidelines recommend children 5 to 13 years old get 9-11 hours of sleep and 14 to 17 year olds need 8-10 hours per night with consistent bed and wake-up times. Lack of sleep can make anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating worse.

2. Activity—ensuring we get the recommended amount of activity each day can set us up for optimal health, both physical and mental. It can also tire us out so we sleep better! In the summer, there may have been more time for family activities like swimming, hiking and biking, but as we head into the fall, work and school priorities may get in the way. Children 5-17 need 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity each day that gets their heart rate elevated. If that’s not going to happen through sports and activities, it needs to happen at home and after school is the best time to do it. Do you have space to set up a small home gym or a basketball hoop? Is there a yoga or dance class that they enjoy doing online? Or can you get out to your local park for a run or a game of catch? Creating an afterschool routine of activity will help to shake off any anxiety or stress that has accumulated through the day.

3. Screen Time—the recommendation is to limit to a maximum of 2 hours of recreational screen time per day, although many families find that restricting recreational screen time Monday-Thursday can allow for a better routine of homework, physical activity and family mealtime.

4. Eating—packing a healthy lunch is a great way to ensure kids have the energy they need to learn and be active at school. Get them involved from the earliest age to help build their food literacy and get their buy-in about what gets packed. Use the Canada’s Food Guide ( plate model to pack a balanced lunch with half coming from vegetables and fruit. Prep these the night before to save time in the morning or choose produce that comes ready-to-eat like mini-cucumbers, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, apples, pears and oranges. Include a protein source like smoked or baked tofu, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, hummus or a sandwich made with canned salmon, tuna, cooked chicken, nut or seed butter (depending on the allergen restrictions in your child’s classroom). Be sure to choose whole grain bread or crackers as the fibre and nutrients will provide more lasting energy and overall better health than refined grain products. As a change, try a hot lunch by sending a thermos of leftovers like pasta, curry or stew. Don’t forget a water bottle.

Then prioritize a family dinner where you can come together and share the positives and negatives from everyone’s day. Talking through the changes can help to alleviate the anxiety that may be building.