The story is the same from one end of the world to the other; people don’t have time to feed their families after a 40+ hour work-week. In modern times, one parent seldom stays home as the price of living requires two incomes for many families. This, in turn, makes it difficult to provide your family with fresh, home cooked meals every day. Fortunately you don’t need to exhaust yourself to prepare a healthy and balanced meal, and with some thoughtful preparation your family can eat as if you stood over the stove for hours. Meal Planning Write out a menu for the week. Planning your meals ahead of time gives you the chance to prepare and serve meals throughout the week, saving you time on shopping and deciding on what to eat. Start a weekly calender of the dinners you want to cook. Planning your meals ahead of time also makes it easier to go grocery shopping — simply buy the ingredients needed for your menu every week. Brainstorm with your family to decide which meals to prepare for the week. Make it a family effort to make sure everyone is happy and well fed. Incorporating child-friendly variations of the recipes in your meal plan helps finicky children in conforming to a weekly menu. For example, a meal of fried chicken and sides for the family can include boneless strips of fried chicken and french fries for the kids, who generally seem to prefer finger foods. Meal Preparation Take some time every week to prepare meals for the week. Freezing dinner-sized portions of each meal allows for convenience and flexibility. For example, make your meatballs and spaghetti sauce a few days in advance, and freeze the sauce in individual freezer bags of various sizes. When spaghetti day comes up, all that is needed is the salad, garlic bread and pasta which only takes about 20 minutes to prepare. Thaw out the spaghetti sauce and serve your family an authentic Italian dinner in under 30 minutes. Preparing your food and freezing it ahead of time not only cuts back on time needed to feed your family during the week, but it also makes for a quality project in which to include your family. Children love to help around the kitchen, so on a weekend or any other free time with the family, throw a cooking party to prepare your meals for the week. Packaged Foods As convenient and tempting as they may be, it’s necessary to avoid packaged foods as often as possible; however it’s completely okay to splurge every now and again. Foods like packaged cookies, cakes, T.V. dinners and all-in-one boxed meals may taste good and fill your family up, but they contain empty calories, trans fats and high amounts of sugar, carbs and sodium. Although it may seem like a convenient idea to microwave a family banquet, these high-convenience foods have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and child obesity. Completely avoiding packaged foods poses as a difficult rule to follow, so choosing healthy and safe packaged foods for your family helps you bend the rules without completely breaking them when it comes to your family’s nutritional needs. Such brands of organic packaged treats include Trader Joe’s brand, which is produced by the chain of grocery stores by the same name. Check the nutritional fact labels and compare packaged foods with different brands to find the healthiest way to incorporate convenient foods in your weekly meal plan.