Job, kids, housework, family… in our time-crunched world, it’s way too tempting to grab takeout and bypass the kitchen, watch TV instead of working out, and make quick decisions about important matters, even when we know we’re not choosing what’s best – for us or our children. But even the busiest family’s lifestyle can be given a boost, without busting your budget or bending over backward to maintain it. Just try:
Feeding the need for healthy fare. The answer to a long day and a hungry family waiting to be fed the moment you walk in the door? Preplanning! Check out grocery store circulars online, then create a weekly meal plan around whatever produce, lean proteins and low-fat dairy items are on sale. Make a list and stick to it, and be sure to shop the perimeter of the store first, where you’ll be more likely to fill your cart with whole foods.
To save time and money, cook large meals. “The leftovers can be used for lunches, in other recipes or frozen into single-portion sizes to be enjoyed later on,” says Adda Bjarnadottir, M.S., licensed nutritionist and contributor to the Authority Nutrition newsletter. Consider batch cooking, too. “Start small by doubling dinner a few times a week, and stash that extra meal in the freezer for another time,” says Jessica Fisher, author of Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. “With little effort, you’ll have built a reserve of home-cooked meals to buy you time on busy nights.”
Slow cooker cooking is also budget-friendly, since cheaper cuts of meat generally come out tender and juicy, and the cooker itself uses “nowhere near as much energy as it takes to heat up an oven,” notes Stephanie O’Dea, author of 365 Slow Cooker Suppers, food writer and blogger. That means a lower utility bill!
Fitting in family fitness. Getting kids away from the screen is the first step to squeezing out time for exercise. Studies at Harvard University show that TV watching from an early age may have far-reaching effects, including the risk of obesity. “But a workout doesn’t have to mean running laps or lifting weights, which requires you to set aside blocks of time,” says Stephen Virgilio, author of Active Start for Healthy Kids. Instead, “Think of exercise as simply leading an active lifestyle, and you’ll be able to fit in more than you think.”
Instead of immediately tackling the dishes after dinner, leave ’em be and have the family take a brisk walk around the block. Then, when the gang sits down in front of the TV to watch their favorite show, get everybody up during commercial breaks to do a few quick reps of sit-ups or push-ups. And right before bedtime, race up and down the stairs or a hallway a few times – it’ll help tire kids out, too!
Banking on money-saving strategies. Get smarter about spending habits and keep more money in your pocket. Start by looking for hidden finance charges, and note when bills are due in order to avoid late fees. A good idea: Enter due dates on your smartphone’s calendar with reminder alerts so you don’t rack up penalties – and jeopardize your credit rating. You should also look into incentive programs that reward your shopping, says Jeanette Pavini, savings expert for Coupons.com. “Loyalty programs and coupons can save you up to 40 percent on your grocery bill!”
Bypass department stores for consignment shops, Goodwill and the Salvation Army, where you can find gently used kids’ clothes (and new items, too), often for just a few dollars. Even better? Start your own “swap shop” with family and friends. “Accept any hand-me-downs you’re offered,” advises Lori McDaniel, a savings expert at Offers.com. “You have no idea how much money you’ll save on everything from clothing to toys.”