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Resolution: Make Healthier Meals

I’m Brigitte Dale and my daughter Beatrice is a one-and-a-half-year-old girl with the appetite of a large football player. And it’s not just Bea; I really like to eat, too. December was a month full of baking, treat sampling and delicious comfort food for us. But now that the holidays are over, my New Year’s resolution for 2015 is to cook healthier meals for our family (which is just Bea and me.)

Now that Beatrice can eat pretty much everything I can, she is eager to try adult flavors and foods. I’m on board with this, I just don’t want her desire to eat like a “grown-up” to turn into a taste for over-salted, over-processed food. I’m aware that the food preferences and eating habits she creates now will affect her for a lifetime.

THE CHALLENGES: I’ve gotten excited about healthy-eating plans before. In fact, I have several cookbooks on my shelf right now filled with healthy, delicious-sounding recipes that each take over an hour to prepare. I’ve come to accept that most of these recipes won’t get made until Beatrice is in school. Until then they’ll just look pretty on the kitchen shelf.

As a single mom who makes a living by freelance writing and producing, I’m basically working any time that Beatrice is asleep or not with me. I don’t have much time to prepare food even if it’s made ahead of time. So I need healthy meal ideas that are easy to prepare with a toddler underfoot. I don’t want to make two separate meals for Beatrice and me; I just don’t have time for that, and inevitably she’ll prefer whatever I’m eating anyway. So I need recipes that are something that we both will like. In other words, I don’t want to eat like a healthy toddler just to be healthy.

I’m also on a tight budget these days. Sadly, processed food becomes appealing when healthy pantry staples are much more expensive and healthy recipes tend to require several expensive individual ingredients to complete. In order for this resolution to be sustainable, I need recipes that are flexible and simple, so I can buy the fresh produce and whole grains that are on sale and in season to make healthy eating affordable for us.

Another challenge is that Beatrice is in a phase where she wants to eat six to seven small meals a day. I need food that is easy to reheat or, even better, can be eaten cold or on the go. If whatever I make for dinner on Monday night can become the snack for our park play date on Tuesday, that would be amazing.

THE PLAN: In order to set myself up for success, I want to be honest about what I am and am not capable of doing in the kitchen right now. I have so little time to cook, and that needs to be OK. The last thing I’m looking to add to my life right now is guilt! So I’m going to search for only flexible and fast meals (and by fast I mean 15 minutes or less of hands-on prep time), using whole foods that also make good leftovers so I can get more than one meal out of each recipe. I’ll set a weekly food budget and only try foods that fit within that budget.

I also need these healthy meal options to include lots of food that feels like “comfort food” or a “special treat.” For better or worse, I love food and it’s a big part of my day. So an eating plan that involves the healthiest food ever is just not going to stick if I feel deprived of a hot, satisfying meal on a cold night, or I can’t treat Bea and me to something sweet on a Sunday afternoon after a rough week.

I'm going to explore kitchen gadgets and appliances that make healthy food prep easier and faster. Also I’m going to figure out which ingredients to stock in my pantry that are multipurpose and relatively inexpensive. Within a few months, my plan is to have a collection of recipes that meet all the above criteria that can become part of my permanent “recipe repertoire” and hopefully yours, too.

I know what I'm hoping to find is what a lot of moms of young kids are looking for. I'm excited to share with you what I learn along the way and am looking forward to kickstarting 2015 the healthy way!

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