07/13/2011 12:31 pm ET Updated Sep 12, 2011

The PhD of Feeding Your Family

It used to be that when it came to meal planning, parents considered questions like what's in the pantry? What will my kids like and what do I have time to make? Perhaps what's going bad in the produce drawer factored in? Then, along the way, peanut allergies and gluten sensitivities entered the picture. Next, nitrates in sandwich meat, antibiotics in beef, pesticides on produce and questions around farm fresh, organic and local entered our decision matrix. And all the while, the question of 'does it taste good?' is omnipresent.

Feeding your family in a healthy and thoughtful way should not require an advanced degree.
If you follow a few guidelines and adopt a healthy and realistic attitude, you can avoid the noise and embrace the meal.

  1. Be creative & flexible. Throw out your preconceived ideas of what dinner (or breakfast or lunch, for that matter) should be. Dinner can be as quick and simple as pasta, with leftover chicken and a few other things from the fridge the kids want to throw in. It doesn't have to look like the meals you grew up with.
  2. Accentuate the positive. If your kids love carrots, embrace the carrots! If they love tofu, cook it every way imaginable. Use what kids love as a great way to subtly introduce new foods into their repertoire. I cook tofu with broccoli, with soy sauce and edamame, and tofu with olive oil, Parmesan and peas.
  3. Read the label. Make it a habit to read labels. Once you start, you'll find it very easy and illuminating. It's a great rule that if you can't pronounce the ingredient, you probably shouldn't cook with it or eat it. Soon you won't bring anything home without knowing what's in it. This alone eliminates many of your questionable foods.

  4. Follow the 80/20 rule. Only a true zealot can keep all processed foods, dyes, non-organics, etc. out of her home. Be sensible about it. If your family eats a lot of something, that's what you should be buying at the highest quality. My husband loves meat, so I buy organic, grass-fed meat and chicken. If possible, I look for meat and chicken from farmers I know and trust. Due to cost, this can be a hard pill to swallow. It means we definitely don't eat as much meat or chicken as we used to!
  5. Keep it seasonal. Always try to buy seasonal produce. Better yet, buy it at the farmer's market, thus eliminating much of the 'should I buy organic?' question. It's better for the earth, it's better for your health and it tastes better!

The good news is information on health, safety, and sustainability is becoming more transparent if you look for it. On, if you feel like fish, you can search for "sustainable seafood," or "summer grilling" and find loads of new ideas. If you turn the Saturday farmers markets into a family outing, then you're already stocked up on great, affordable produce while getting out. Ideally, as these steps slowly become habit, many of the questions fade into the background and you're left with time to enjoy your family, without worrying quite as much about your choices for the next day's meals.