The new school year is approaching quickly and summer is winding down. You’ll probably find your schedule getting a bit busier too, especially if you have kids who need to be taken to school, day care, and other activities.

When the pace of life changes, we tend to put healthy habits on the back burner. But whether you are trying to manage diabetes, prediabetes, or your weight, it’s important to continue planning healthy meals, exercising, and living a healthy lifestyle. This month, we’re bringing you 6 simple tips that will help you and your family keep eating and living well throughout the school year.

#1: Plan Ahead

When it comes to cooking healthy, it’s important to plan ahead so you have everything you need in your kitchen. One approach you could take is to set aside a few minutes each weekend to plan your meals for the coming week. Writing this out can be especially helpful. If you’re cooking for your entire family, it may be an activity that you can do together

As you plan, consider the activities that you have going on each day. How much time will you have to cook? Which healthy recipes or meals can be made in that amount of time? Based on the week of meals you come up with, make your grocery list and stock up on healthy foods before the week starts. That way, you won’t have to bother with a busy grocery store during the week.

#2: Work Exercise into Your New Routine

With a busy schedule, 30 minutes of exercise may seem like a daunting task. But did you know that you can split that 30 minutes up into three 10-minute spurts for the same benefits? Make exercise work for you! It could be as simple as taking a 10-minute walk after each meal.

Once again, it’s helpful to plan ahead. Look at your schedule for the coming week and choose the days and times you will exercise. Even when you plan, there will still be times when something comes up and you aren’t able to stick to your schedule. When that happens, don’t look at it as a failure. Just pick back up with your routine the next day.

Did you ever think about making exercise a family or group activity? Take the dog for a walk or take the kids for a bike ride after school. On the weekends, hit the hiking trails with the family. If you want to catch up with friends, you could sign up for an exercise class together or go for a walk.

If you find yourself waiting around at soccer or football practice, walk or jog laps around the park while you wait. Or, if you have some down time while dinner is cooking, pop in a work out video or do some strength exercises in the comfort of your home. And don’t forget – heavy gardening and cleaning can also count as activity!

#3: Keep It Simple

There’s no need to cook a gourmet meal on a busy school night. When choosing recipes, remember to consider the prep time and cooking time. Something else to look for is the number of ingredients needed to make a recipe. The shorter the list, the simpler the recipe will be.

There are lots of quick and easy recipes out there that are also healthy! Start by searching through our library of quick recipes. A few good ones to start with are our Quick Spinach and Ham English Muffin Pizzas, Pork Chops with Peach Salsa, and Kid-Friendly Meatballs. You may also be interested in the following cookbooks if you’re pressed for time: this month’s featured cookbook the Smart Shopper Diabetes Cookbook, 15-Minute Diabetic Meals, or Lickety-Split Diabetic Meals.

There are also some other short cuts you can take to cut down on prep time:

Does your grocery store have a salad bar? Buy the precut vegetables from the salad bar to cut down on chopping time. This strategy is perfect for recipes like our Gazpacho Salad, Chicken and Corn Skillet, and Mediterranean Turkey Wrap.

Keep several bags of frozen non-starchy vegetables in the fridge. These can be heated up quickly and served as a side with any entrée. They can also be added to some meals like pastas, casseroles, stir-frys and omelets to increase the nutritional value!

Consider pre-cooked rotisserie chicken or meats from the salad bar. You can add them to soups, chili, tacos, or salads. Make chicken salad or just serve slices of rotisserie chicken with some barbeque sauce and a side of cooked veggies.

Take advantage of canned convenience items that are high in nutrients like canned tuna, reduced-sodium beans, and no salt added tomatoes.

#4: Use a Slow-Cooker to Your Advantage!

A slow cooker – also called a crock pot – cooks food at a low, steady temperature. Most slow cooker dishes take about 8 hours and the recipes are fairly simple – just toss in your ingredients and let them cook during the day while you’re out. It’s an easy solution if you don’t have a lot of time to prepare a meal when you get home at night.

Try some of our healthy slow cooker recipes that are sure to be a hit: Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken, Slow-Cooker Chicken Fajita Burritos, Crock Pot Spinach Lasagna, and Slow-Cooker Chicken with Sweet Potatoes.

#5: Pack Lunch – Make it a Habit!

Do you rely on fast food for lunch every day? An easy way to get healthier is to start packing lunch. When you do this, you have more control over your portions and what goes into your meal. To get in the habit of packing a healthy lunch, here are a few simple tips:

Set a goal. Perhaps you can aim to pack your own lunch at least 4 days a week.

When stocking up at the beginning of the week, don’t forget to buy lunch supplies. It could be as easy as picking up some low-carb wraps, low-sodium deli meat, a bag of precut vegetables, hummus, and some fresh fruit.

Make sure you have a few to-go containers, thermoses, and/or plastic sandwich bags. This will make it easier to pack and transport your food.

Many of us need to find the time to pack lunch in order to make it a habit. It could be as easy as doing it during the commercials of your favorite television show. Maybe you can pack your own lunch while you’re making lunch for your kids. Or, it may be easiest to pack a separate container of leftovers as you are cleaning up after dinner.

You could also try bringing in your lunch supplies at the beginning of the week and storing them in a refrigerator. Keep some snacks or side items at your desk like nuts, granola bars, fruit cocktail, apples, oranges, and oatmeal.

For some quick and tasty homemade lunch ideas, check out this month’s article New and Healthy Brown Bag Lunches.

#6: Take Time for Your Health and Eat Mindfully

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the little things from day to day. Try to keep things in perspective. Your health is important, so take the time you need to exercise and eat well. Remind yourself once a day to slow down and refocus on what matters.

Source: American Diabetes Association