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The Busy Families' Guide to Healthy Eating

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The Millner Family -- Charlottesville, VA Meal-Skippers: The Challenges
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Jen Fariello
Photo by Jen Fariello

While the Millner children -- Joli, 8, and Kai, 7 -- have a nourishing breakfast and are sent off to school with healthy snacks, their parents are less successful on the nutritional front. Sharon (a speech pathologist) and Jamal (a musician), both 35, are always on the move. Though she's eager to lose a few pounds, Sharon often misses breakfast and grabs vending machine goodies -- animal crackers or granola bars -- in lieu of lunch; Jamal skips meals as well, consuming the majority of his calories at night. Take-out dinners have become the norm for this busy family. "While we try to make wise choices, we aren't doing so consistently," says Sharon. "And the kids are eating more fast food than I'd like." She's also concerned that Joli isn't getting enough protein in her diet.

The Solutions
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Jen Fariello
kids walking to school
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Jen Fariello
Photos by Jen Fariello

  • Rise and dine. If Sharon is really determined to lose weight, she needs to sit down to a healthy breakfast, says Kris Bonham, RD, a nutrition coach at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Center in Charlottesville. "After even a few hours of not eating, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy, which means you burn fewer calories," she explains. "Eating revs your metabolism back up."
  • Get packing. Although neither Sharon nor Jamal has time to eat an entire lunch at one time, they can portion it out throughout the day -- a half a sandwich here, a piece of fruit there. "Small, frequent meals help keep energy levels up and metabolism in high gear," says Bonham. She recommends packing an insulated bag with mini meals -- a banana, a serving of homemade trail mix, carrot sticks and hummus -- the night before.
  • Make your own food, fast. Rather than relying on pizza and Chinese takeout, the family should shop for ingredients that can be quickly thrown together for a nutritious dinner, says Bonham. For example, keep prechopped vegetables and chicken breasts on hand for an easy-to-assemble stir-fry; Asian noodles that come prepackaged with sauce can be cooked up in minutes with frozen shrimp and prechopped fresh broccoli. Broth-based vegetable soups from the deli are also great to have on hand, as they can be frozen and heated up when needed.
  • Slip in protein. To up Joli's intake of this important nutrient, keep canned beans on hand, says Bonham. They can be served as a side dish, stealthily rolled up into a burrito or stirred into soups and stews. Eggs are also a great protein source; scrambled with veggies and low-fat cheese and served on whole wheat toast, they're a quick and tasty alternative to a fast-food dinner.

The Feedback

Bonham's advice has paid off for the Millners. "I've lost 5 pounds, and Jamal has dropped 7, and we're not dragging during the day," says Sharon. "He and I have been packing our lunches, and we 'make the time' to eat during the day." She's also found some easy dinner recipes, which have helped the family curb their take-out habit on the nights she works late.

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