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Tips to Make Family Dinner Prep and Cooking Easier, Faster

Not smitten with the kitchen? Never fear, southeast Michigan moms and dads. Here's an alternative plan for feeding your kids healthy foods – without slaving over the stove.

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Cooking is hot. From the glut of cookbooks to the endless food TV shows, there's no denying it. And while many people find cooking cathartic or just worthwhile, there are many who only see it as a chore. An important one for parents who want to feed their children healthy, wholesome food – but a chore, nonetheless.

If you count yourself among the kitchen haters, fear not. There is a middle ground. There are things you can do – limited tasks, tools and ideas that you can call upon – to make your children a good meal. We won't call it cooking. It hardly qualifies. But it is food preparation on the fly that will do just fine!

Start with vegetables

Plain and simple, the best way to feed your family a healthy diet and avoid fast-food, heavily processed, chemical-tainted manufactured meals is to focus on veggies – and expand from there. We're not talking about eating carrot sticks and celery morning, noon and night. There is a whole world of possibility in the healthy family arena.

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoid cans, bags and boxes, and focus on what grows in the ground. Southeast Michigan farmers markets provide a plethora of local produce (hint: some are even open year-round). Pick grapes from the yard. Blend veggies and fruit into a smoothie. Make it fun, and the kids will follow along.

"Don't take anything away," says Andrea McNinch, owner of Regeneration Raw and its sister company, the Heal Yourself Institute, in Royal Oak. "At first, slowly add. Make smoothies, and make it simple. Stress will kill you before food will. Don't ever force your kids to eat healthy. That's World War III in the family. Lead by example."

Get your greens in

"I try to have families think about, 'Where am I going to get my veggies, first?'" says Stacy Goldberg, a registered nurse with a master's in public health and founder of Savorfull, an allergy-free foods delivery service based in Detroit. "Veggies are high-maintenance, so volumize your meals with vegetables. The easiest shortcut is to buy them already cut up."

If veggies are the focus, then the other components of a meal don't take center stage, says Goldberg.

"I'm not opposed to frozen vegetables, either," she says. "Stock your freezer with frozen organic vegetables because they are usually frozen at their peak, and then there's no excuse to not have veggies."

Dark, leafy greens provide a huge health punch, so think of creative ways to add them to your family's diet. Throw into a soup, saute to add to pastas or layer on top of pizzas, or add raw to a smoothie – they won't even know they're in there!

"Smoothies are one of the most nutritionally dense amazing things you can add into your diet," says McNinch. "Kids love it – they get to grind things up and it's loud and they can pick out the food. As long as you're getting greens in that smoothie – it's so important."

Amy Pierce, a Sterling Heights mom of three, makes smoothies for snacks or breakfasts when her family is running late. She starts with Arbonne protein powder and lets the kids add fruits and veggies in on their own.

"They're so versatile and filling," says Pierce. Try carrot banana flax, half a frozen banana with peanut butter, frozen berries and fresh spinach leaves – and, for the liquid, try water, coconut milk or cow's milk.

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