How to feed your family when life is just too busy

By Dr Madhavi Kathiria

Endless to-do lists and growing stress levels are contributing to a modern busyness epidemic. The statistics continue to roll in with the same message: in Australia three in four people say stress affects their health, two-thirds of working parents say that they don’t get everything done in a day that they would like to, while nearly half say they feel trapped. ComPsych, the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs, last year reported that three out of five employees are highly stressed.

With mounting piles of pressure and limited time, it’s important that you simplify life where you can – especially if health is an important goal.

When eating right, the food in your pantry and fridge becomes your medicine. It improves gut health and internal microbiomes, strengthens digestions, aids the immune system, eliminates toxins, improves sleep, reduces aging and can help keep stress under control.

Getting started

Proper nutrition is more than looking at carbohydrates, fats and sugars or counting calories. If you’re following fad diets, one moment it’s all about eating raw and juicing, then it’s going Paleo - these constantly changing eating trends are just a lot of hype and won’t do your body any good.

Studies show the body’s natural response to starving, or severely restricted nutrients, is a slowed metabolism - making it harder to lose weight and stay healthy. If you’re interested, here’s an article we wrote which outlines why fad diets don’t work. 

With Ayurveda we look at an individual approach to health, which is long term and wholesome. Ayurveda is based on the principle that there are three different body types, and these are the energies that make up every individual.

We all fall into one main category – vata, pitta or kapha – and this largely defines our nature, physical build, eating habits and even vulnerability to certain illnesses. If you’re not sure of your body type, you can read this article to discover your dosha and find mind-body harmony.

Make the right food choices

The biggest thing we hear is clients getting confused when they get to the supermarket, they’re not sure what to buy or cook, and end up making the wrong choices. A big one is just assuming that anything in the health food aisle is healthy.

I see a lot of clients who regularly buy packaged food that they believe is good for them. Just because it says ‘organic’ on the packaging doesn’t mean it’s going to be good for you.

There are plenty of clever marketing experts out there that make it even harder to work out what is actually healthy. Gluten-free marketing is one to watch out for. Just because the food is labelled GF, doesn’t mean it’s healthy either. We need to look at the sugar content in food as this is where many people get caught out - they think they are eating, but their food is laden with sugar.

As a guide, look for what type of sugar and salt the products are made from and of course how much is used. Canned foods are also one to watch out for as chances are it will be high in salt.

Watch out for protein bars and breakfast cereals as they are often laden with sugar and can catch you out. If you’re going for a breakfast cereal you’re best placed buying rice flakes, or oat flakes, and putting the mix together yourself rather than buying a pre-packaged cereal. Here’s an article we wrote about how to cut back on sugar and what to watch out for.

Planning, planning, planning

Buying healthy produce and feeding your family wholesome food requires planning. You’re better off investing a few hours at the start of the week meal planning instead of getting crazy in the spur of the moment, trying to work out what to cook – and making the wrong choices.

When meal planning you not only know what you need to buy, and are more likely to walk away with healthy food, but you will also have a plan which will likely save you money as well.

Research shows we waste a remarkable amount of food every year, with some studies claiming that 14-25 percent of the food we bring home from the grocery store ends up in the garbage.

Being organised will also help you avoid the big supermarkets for the bulk of your shopping. When possible it’s best if you can shop at local farmers’ markets and health food stores, supplementing this with purchases from the supermarket when needed.

For those that have concerns about the cost of doing the majority of your shopping at smaller outlets, and buying the best produce available, remind yourself that this money is actually well spent – it is a small investment - money that you won’t be spending later to fix your health!

Be smart with your time

It’s better to spend time with family rather than all your waking hours cooking, unless it’s something you love to do – we want to do what makes us happier when it comes to food and eating, as this is all part of the digestion and nourishment of body and mind.

First of all, if you’re pressed for time, I always suggest working off simple recipes, where there are not too many ingredients and preparation time is minimal.

Also look at the week ahead, are there things that can be prepared in advance, that might mean chopping up some vegetables in the morning before work and storing them in the fridge.  

Try to cook a little more dinner so you can take extra for lunch. In Ayurveda it’s better to eat fresh food, rather than storing in the fridge, but for one night it’s fine.

I like to have a rice cooker handy, so in the morning it’s easy to set the timer and it will be ready for dinner. Slow cooking food is nice and easy and that way you can eat foods that are good for you, such as beans soaked overnight and cooked the next day in the slow cooker (while you do other things).

What should you avoid?

The New York Times recently ran an article stating that the more red meat you eat, the greater your risk of dying from one of eight major diseases. The research showed that high red meat consumption increased your chances of getting cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, infections, kidney disease and liver disease.

Meat is very hard to digest and in Ayurveda when we are trying to remove toxins from the body, we ask our clients to avoid this. Meat is also rajasic (stimulating) and tamas (leads to inertia) due to its heaviness.

It’s always better to avoid red meat, however if your digestive fire, agni, is strong and you feel a vegetarian diet is not for you, then it’s OK to eat some eat meat (preferably in bone broths as this will give you nourishment and strength). In that case, when choosing your meat, go for organic, and cook it with herbs and spices which will assist the digestive process. Depending on what you’re cooking try cumin, coriander, turmeric, or other herbs like parsley and rosemary. This helps with the inflammation that it causes in the gut

In general you are also better off eating white meat and fish as opposed to red meat, which takes much longer to digest (about eight hours).

Likewise, if digestion is not so good I would avoid dairy. If you’re drinking milk I would also choose unhomogenised, which is less processed. Warm milk can be beneficial with turmeric and dry ginger to help with digestion; avoid cold milk as it increases mucus and kapha in the body.

Processed foods definitely need to be avoided as does excessive raw food. The most important meal is in the morning and remember, it’s perfectly fine to skip a meal if you’re not feeling hungry.

Pantry staples and some of my favourite (easy) recipes

Here’s a quick list of things I always like to have on hand when cooking family meals.

·    Lentils

·    Mung dal and beans

·    Rapadura sugar or Jaggery (as sweetener)

·    Spices spices such as turmeric, coriander, cumin, dry ginger powder, cumin seeds and coriander seeds

·    Dry ginger powder

·    Asafoetida, which helps with digestion when cooking

·    Brown basmati rice

·    Quinoa

·    Buckwheat flour

·    Ghee

·    Cumin seeds

·    Rice porridge

·    GF porridge

·    Almonds

·    Walnuts

Also here are some easy to prepare recipes which use these ingredients, suit all the body types and also incorporate the Six Tastes of Ayurveda, hope you enjoy them!

·    Moong bean soup recipe

·    Kitchari

·    Quinoa salad with roast pumpkin

·    Buckwheat pancake

About Dr Madhavi Kathiria

Madhavi is an Ayurvedic doctor and naturopath. Widely known for ‘getting to the root’ of a client’s health issue, Madhavi answered her powerful calling to help as many people as possible become happier with their overall health and wellness. She is also a firm believer that anyone with the right environment and medicine can heal themselves.

Her years of experience, an incredible commitment to patients and humble and highly intelligent personality, makes her a valued member of the Back2Health team and a favourite among clients. She is also involved in Health Dynamics, overseeing detoxes, cleanses and retreats for clients around the world with Jo Formosa.