Healthy Eating on a Busy Schedule

Life can get pretty hectic with family, work, school, and other responsibilities. This makes it challenging to prioritize our health. To make it easier to have a healthy diet in the midst of a busy schedule, try these ideas and tips:

  • Meal Planning: Schedule time each week to plan what meals you’ll eat that week and your grocery list. Consider the rainbow of fruits and vegetables every week as you plan. This will help ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients, as each color offers different nutrients your body needs. Also, use weekly grocery store ads and plan meals around woman making list with store adwhat’s on sale. Have a list of your family’s go-to meals that you enjoy. Start with some of those meals each week and plan your other meals around those meals. You can try theme meals such as Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Fish Friday, and others that can help you think of a variety of nutritious meals to cook that week. Use a meal planning template like this one to make meal planning easier.
  • Organization & Keeping Stock: Shuffling through your refrigerator and pantry takes time. Keep your food storage organized so you know exactly what food you have on hand, saving valuable time. You can pick up pantry staples when they are on sale to build up your stock and be prepared to cook a meal on short notice. Here are some foods to keep on hand:
    • Pantry: oats, brown rice, canned beans, whole wheat pasta, lentils, canned tomato sauce, canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned tuna or salmon, canned chicken, low-sodium soup, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, white vinegar, olive oil, vegetable oil, ground black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, salt, cinnamon, chili powder, ground ginger, basil, oregano, onion powder, non-stick cooking spray, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour
    • Refrigerator: fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, cheese, salad greens, yogurt, low-fat mayonnaise, low-sodium soy sauce
    • Freezer: chicken, lean ground beef, whole wheat bread, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables
  • Prep in Advance: When possible, prepare meals and snacks in advance. For example, snacks like trail mix and hard-boiled eggs can be made in advance and enjoyed throughout the week. When you cook foods like dried beans and brown rice that take longer to cook, cook double and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers. Cut up vegetables like carrots, celery, and cucumber that can be eaten raw and store in containers in the fridge for an easy snack.
  • Use Leftovers: Keep leftovers in the front of the fridge where you’ll remember to use them. Rather than throwing out those leftovers that you don’t know what to do with, combine them with another food to make a meal. Doing this saves money because you’re not throwing away the food you bought. For example, use leftover mixed vegetables in an omelet.
  • Slow Cooker: Take advantage of a slow cooker, which can do all the cooking of a meal for you. Set up your meal in the morning before work and dinner will be ready for you when you get home at the end of the day. You can also use a slow cooker to cook individual parts of a meal, such as shredded chicken or dry beans. If you use your slow cooker to make red kidney beans, make sure you boil them on the stovetop before finishing cooking in a slow cooker.

When your life gets busy, don’t let healthy eating be another source of stress. Keep it simple with useful tips like these to make healthy eating for your family as easy as possible.


Food Safety: Are We Making These Mistakes?

We know that food safety isn’t something to take lightly in your home. In fact, some of our simple mistakes can be much more dangerous than we think.

In an article posted on, some of our biggest food safety mistakes are highlighted.

For instance, do you wash meat or poultry? What about eat raw dough, cookie dough, or other foods with uncooked eggs or uncooked flour?

To read all the common mistakes, read the full article here: .

Healthy eating on a budget!

Eating healthy on a budget can be really hard, especially if you’re paying for rent, gas, and other necessities. However, it can be done. The first step to successfully budgeting a healthy meal is to just create a game plan for your groceries. Research and look up tips for healthy, low-cost meals and master the skill of finding the best deals on items.

Shopping smart is the key to eating healthy on a budget. Realizing that the “unit price” is the better option for you can be beneficial in the long run. Reading each food label can also help make decisions easier when being mindful of healthiness. Each aisle of the grocery store has deals and discounts. Finding those will also benefit anyone on a budget. Preparing healthy meals can be easier by using kitchen timesavers. This makes it easier because you can make meals faster and more efficiently. Looking up new recipes to try can also help make things less complicated. Plus, this can bring a family together by introducing new things to meals.
There are plenty of budget-friendly recipes to choose, from a slow-cooked beef stew to summer chicken spring rolls; there are a variety of healthy recipes that factor in a budget. There are other options such as a grilled salmon, avocado salad and pesto chicken kabobs.

There are even tofu stir-fry options for those who are vegetarians. Making menus for every 2-weeks is also a budget-conscious habit that can save money and benefit health-wise. Keeping grocery and pantry staples lists are also great ideas in following a budget. Referring to the ChooseMyPlate model can also be informative on which food groups are needed in each meal. Utilizing your resources such as SNAP-ED and FNS can also help save money and accomplish healthy meal preparation.



Taylor is a student intern working with EFNEP at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Pitt County Center.



Are canned fruits and vegetables healthy?


My husband, who grew up in rural North Carolina spent many of his summers with his grandfather. He saw acres of farmland with fresh vegetables including cabbages, collards, green beans, okra, field peas, squash, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, Muscadine grapes, peaches, etc. He and his grandfather would get up early in the mornings to gather the crops. Some would be used for daily meals while others were canned and frozen by his grandmother, sold at the farmer’s market, and given to needy families. They would do this every day until it was time to replant for the next season.

While many of us don’t have access to a large family garden for fresh fruits and vegetables, there are still many available healthy canned options.

Researchers at Michigan State University found that canned fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as frozen or fresh. For canned tomatoes in particular, canning improves the content of B vitamins, vitamin E and carotenoids compared to fresh. Fiber in beans becomes more soluble through the canning process,  and thus more useful to the human body. Additionally, a nationally represented survey of American adults found that adults and children who frequently eat canned foods (6 or more items over 2 weeks) have healthier eating habits compared to those who eat 1-2 canned food items in the same time period.  

Eat the fruits and vegetables you prefer whether canned, fresh, frozen or dried. Canned foods simply make healthy eating easy. Canned fruits and veggies are convenient to have in your pantry for times you can’t get to the store; they can even be kept at work (with a can opener) for a quick lunch or an afternoon snack. Since they don’t expire quickly, you won’t waste money when buying canned veggies – which sometimes happens with fresh produce that goes bad. Here are a few tips when buying canned fruit and vegetables:

Watch for sodium:
Sodium is usually added to canned foods to preserve them. Look for low-sodium, reduced-sodium or no-salt-added labeled foods. Compare the sodium content on the Nutrition Facts label and choose the product with the lowest amount. Drain and rinse canned veggies to reduce sodium even more.

Watch for added sugar: Look for fruit that’s canned in water, its own juice, or light syrup (drain and rinse).

Delicious uses:

  • Add drained cans of corn, tomatoes and pinto beans or any other vegetable to low-sodium chicken broth for a super-fast and filling vegetable soup.
  • Use a blender, food processor or a fork to smash drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, northern beans, or any beans into a bean dip for baby carrots; add a little lemon juice and garlic powder for some zip.
  • Serve canned fruit as a dessert topped with low-fat, no sugar-added yogurt; or top whole grain cereal with canned fruit.

You can feel confident that canned fruits and vegetables are nutritious, safe and full of flavor. Fill up your pantry with your favorite canned produce to help you prepare nutritious, quick everyday meals for your family more often while saving time and money.





Eating Together!

How many of you aim to have at least few meals of the week together as a family?

These days schedules of both parents and children leave almost no time for regular dinners together at the table.  Between soccer practices, dance rehearsals, playdates, and other scheduling conflicts, family mealtime can seem like a thing of the past.

Did you know that research shows that having a meal together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development? Family dinners have been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school. Source:

If you are still looking for some inspiration, here are some more benefits of eating a meal together as a family.

  • Dinner table provides an opportunity for conversation and to reconnect as a family. By engaging your children in conversation, you teach them how to listen and give them with a chance to express their opinions.
  • Family mealtime is the perfect opportunity to display appropriate table manners, meal etiquette, and social skills. Be a good role model and lead by example.
  • Meals prepared and eaten at home are usually more nutritious and healthy. They contain more fruits, vegetables, and dairy products along with additional nutrients such as fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C, and folate.
  • The sense of security and togetherness provided by family meals helps nurture children into healthy, well-rounded adults. Children who eat dinner with their family are more likely to understand, acknowledge, and follow the boundaries and expectations set by their parents.
  • The home cooked meal cost 2-4 times less than the meals purchased outside. You save your time and money by not make going out to eat at a restaurant and making short trips to the grocery store.
  • Family mealtime is a great place to introduce new food to the kids. It greatly helps the picky eater. Try to make the mealtime a cool, calm and positive experience for the children. Avoid- criticism and over correction.