Life can leave you feeling like a circus acrobat. Weaving a delicate balance between work, family, after-school programs, friends and housekeeping, you give everything your attention, often all at once. When time gets tight, family meals are often the first thing to suffer. While turning to take-out or oven-ready foods seems easier than preparing dinner every night, these meals often lack the complete nutrition a busy life requires.

Instead of reaching for a quick fix or turning to the drive-thru, here's a list of helpful hints and quick, healthy recipes guaranteed to keep you on the fast track to nutritious family meals.

Take ten minutes each week to plan mealtimes ahead

It's worth it to plan a menu for the week. Consider the upcoming week's activities and the time leftover you have to prepare dinner each night. Choose quick or abundant recipes accordingly. Involve all family members in the menu planning to include their favourites, and don't miss opportunities for lunches and snacks when planning the menu. One night's leftovers can be turned into healthy, and easy lunches throughout the week.

Shop once during the week

Popping in to the grocery store after work every day adds precious minutes to your already packed day. It also adds up in the dollar department as you are more likely to make unhealthy and expensive impulse purchases. Instead, make a list using the week's menus and shop once at the beginning of the week or on the weekend. Stick to the list, making substitutions only when necessary. This strategy helps the waistline as well as the wallet.

Read food labels

Read labels carefully and consult the nutrition facts panel before purchasing. Most pantry staples including stocks, soups and sauces come in reduced fat and reduced sodium options. When the option is available, choose whole grain products to increase the fibre, vitamin and mineral content of your meals. Making small changes like these can have a big impact on your family's overall health in the long run.

Prep meals ahead when you have a block of time

Set aside an hour or two on the weekend or at the beginning of the week to prep a few things for the upcoming week. Chop vegetables and store them in labelled, resealable containers. You'll thank yourself later for making a stew, soup or stock to freeze and use later in the week. When the day comes, you'll feel like a television chef with all your ingredients prepared for you!

Enlist helping hands

Kids love to be involved and will help out when allowed to. And when time is tight, the more hands the better. Younger children can wash fruit and vegetables or set the table. Older children can help chop, grate cheese or even cook. Choose recipes for the week with this in mind. Maybe a willing older child wants to prepare one meal a week when they get home from school. Involving your child in making healthy nutritional choices early on helps them make good choices as they grow.

Make mealtime a priority

For your health, and the health of your family, make time for dinner each night. It doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as simple as a homemade sandwich in the car between games or lessons.