Healthy eating tips for busy families

Dec 19 2017, 10:31 pm

Remember the good old days, when your kids would come home from school, and your husband would come home from work to a freshly-prepared-from-scratch, beautifully-balanced supper?


Me, either.

Those days are gone. I don’t know too many families that can afford to have one parent stay at home with the kids while the other one works. Often, even if one parent stays at home, they are still trying to run some kind of part-time (or full-time) business on the side. In addition, we are constantly ferrying our kids to after-school activities, so even you are a parent who doesn’t work outside the home, chances are, you’re not walking in the door until after 5 pm most days, anyway.

All of this, sadly, can lead to some pretty unhealthy eating habits. Exhibit number one: the fast-food drive through. Exhibit number two: ordering pizza.

Don’t get me wrong–no one loves a pizza more than I do. But all things in moderation.


Jessica Pirnak (Photo courtesy Polo Health)

I talked to Registered Dietician Jessica Pirnak, whose specialty is helping kids and parents create a positive relationship with food, about healthy eating tips for busy families.

Vancity Buzz: Do you have some tips for time-challenged, harried working parents? How do we depend less upon drive-throughs and frozen pizza (or eating at 8 p.m.)?

Jessica Pirnak: The situation you just described is one I hear often from families, and when two or three kids are doing multiple after school activities and both parents are on opposite sides of the city, I really don’t know how they keep their energy up! A recommendation I like to make in these situations is bulk cooking. This does require some meal planning but your wallet and heart will thank you later. Pick one night a week to make a couple of meals that you can freeze for later, for instance: chilli, home-made mac & cheese, lasagne or other stews/soups. If this is a challenge, then next time you make a meal that will freeze and store well make 4x your usual amount. Eventually you’ll have enough different meals in your freezer to serve after these very long days.

My deep freeze contains homemade mac 'n' cheese, salmon, homemade spaghetti sauce, and yes, a frozen pizza. Image credit: Rebecca Coleman

My deep freeze contains homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, salmon, homemade spaghetti sauce, and yes, a frozen pizza. Image credit: Rebecca Coleman

The other big challenge in many families is the variety of eating styles. For example, there’s a vegetarian and meat-eaters eating at the same table. Then there are the picky eaters who eat nothing but chicken nuggets! How can you make everyone happy (and still be healthy)?

Oh those picky eaters! Studies indicate that 80 percent of parents report this as an issue with their children – 80 percent–that’s huge! Parents are responsible for where, when and what the child eats, while the child is responsible for if and how much they will eat. With this philosophy in mind, children need to taste a new food between 7 and 12 times before they’ll accept it. Keep serving those picky eaters what the family is eating and one day I promise you they’ll actually start liking broccoli.

For the vegetarian, try a couple of nights a week having meat-less meals for the whole family. This will get you experimenting in the kitchen and including everyone in the meal preparation.

Can you give us some ideas for healthy, on the go snacks that can be taken in the car? Or time-saving lunches we can pack on the weekend, and then just grab and go?

Some good on-the-go snacks that can also sit in the car include: a variety of nuts such as almonds, cashews or walnuts; seeds such as sesame or pumpkin; dried fruit or fresh fruits and vegetables. One delicious snack is dried figs and peanut butter – tons of fibre and protein to keep your energy up! Regarding lunch, the fastest lunch to prepare is salad. Buy some pre-washed lettuce, cut and prepared veggies, a can of beans, nuts or seeds, and throw it together for a quick salad. Or use left over protein from last night’s dinner instead of beans.

How can get kids involved in the meal prep, without them destroying the kitchen, or ultimately, making more work (in terms of cleaning)?

Tough question! Kids are hands-on learners, so this might be the price we pay for getting them involved in meal preparation. However, some ways to keep your kitchen sane would be: take your child grocery shopping and asking them what fruit or vegetable they would like to eat. Let them pick it out. If you have a garden on your patio or in the backyard, get the kids out there planting and harvesting your veggies – they love getting dirty. In the kitchen, let them wash, peel or serve the meal to get them excited about eating different foods.

Could you share an actual recipe with us?

A delicious easy after school snack is chia seed pudding! Here’s a great recipe:


  • 1 can of coconut milk (400 mL)
  • 1/3 cup of chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp of maple syrup or honey
  • 1 tsp of vanilla

Directions: Mix all ingredients together and wait for a pudding consistency. Takes about 1/2 hour in the fridge or an hour on the counter. Serve with fresh or frozen berries.


Jessica Pirnak is a Registered Dietician at Polo Health and Longevity Centre in New Westminster. She also writes a blog at

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