3 Solutions to Conquer “Crunch Time”

family dinner

If you’re a working parent, you know all too well how exhausting it can be to make the daily dash home from work, only to step directly into the vortex of the sports practice/homework/dinner/bedtime routine. In fact, a new poll commissioned by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation dubbed these hours “crunch time” – that harried window between 3 p.m. and bedtime. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that 60% of children were consuming foods and drinks that could lead to unhealthy weight gain.

In today’s super-squeezed work environment, most of us struggle with some version of “crunch time” in our own day, when our best intentions seem to sail out the window, right along with our will power and our energy levels. That’s when the candy bar or energy drink becomes part of the equation.

To help you conquer crunch time, try these 3 easy tips.

Tip #1: Grab-and-Go Snacks

Stock up on good-for-you snacks that require zero prep time so you can walk in the door and quickly grab something nourishing to eat, such as:

Fresh fruit. Easy-to-peel clementines are in season and affordable at this time of year, as are chilled apples or pears. Store in your fridge to extend the shelf life.

Low-fat string cheese, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt

All natural nut butters or a 1 oz. handful of nuts

Hard boiled eggs – one of nature’s most economical, complete proteins

Air-popped popcorn – 3 cups is a serving of whole grains!

Snap peas or edamame. These high protein snacks can be ready-to-eat in your fridge.

Tip #2: Pour a Better Drink

Without a doubt, it’s tempting to open the fridge and pull out a soda, fruit drink, or other sugary beverage that will perk up your taste buds and provide an immediate “feel good” boost after a long day. But an avalanche of recent studies are linking sugar-sweetened beverages with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. In my opinion, there is no possibly greater habit to sabotage your health than slurping sugary beverages.

Of course, you still deserve to feel pampered, so try this instead: club soda with a splash of 100% concord grape or pomegranate juice for an antioxidant boost. Or brew and chill some of your favorite herbal tea and stash in the fridge – float lemon or lime slices and herbs, such as mint or basil.

Tip #3: Automate With Ready-to-Eat Meals

It’s easier to conquer “crunch time” if you have a few healthy meals on autopilot – this is one of my own secrets to serving something healthy on nights when I arrive home a zombie after a full workday. Find foods that fit with your taste buds, budget and kitchen. Here are 4 things that are on “autopilot” in my house – that means I always have the ingredients ready and waiting.

Low-sodium canned lentil or minestrone soup + whole grain crackers + a piece of fruit

Microwave a whole wheat tortilla with canned (rinsed) black or pinto beans. Top with jarred tomato (or tomatillo) salsa and sliced avocado.

Scrambled eggs sautéed in olive oil, on 100% whole grain toast, with sliced fruit or baby carrots. Want a little more luxury? A small drizzle of truffle oil on eggs transforms this into a deluxe dinner.

Swinging by the supermarket? Grab a rotisserie chicken and one of those new bagged “slaws” that have hit stores recently – shredded broccoli, cabbage, and other cancer-fighting cruciferous veggies. Toss with your favorite vinaigrette plus some sunflower or pumpkin seeds for added vitamins, minerals and crunch/

What are your favorite tips for conquering crunch time? I’d love to hear them.