By: Michelle Meyers

Since I took on the 12 Healthy Habits challenge to start cooking and making more meals myself, my vegetable vocabulary has expanded greatly. My family and I have found that we love roasted Brussels sprouts, buttery-sweet parsnips, and nutty butternut squash, which I buy pre-peeled and chopped to save oh-so-precious time.

To keep from slipping back into a cooking rut, I include my family in the meal planning. I’ll ask my husband or my kids for a main course suggestion, and then I’ll pick out a few recipes to try. They give me feedback on what they like, and we’re building an index of recipes and dishes we all like. It’s nice to have the whole family involved!

Because I’m an early riser, I do most of my prep in the morning before work. I marinate some chicken or fish, chop veggies, etc. I found that using convenience products has made my life a lot easier. I’ve always been hesitant to use frozen vegetables or pre-made products—I like to use fresh ingredients and cook from scratch—but I never realized how many great products are out there, especially when you have easy access to stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. As someone who likes to make their own sauce, I’m proud to admit I’ve even started using jarred sauces. Some of my other favorite short-cut products are chopped mangoes, frozen pizza dough, and jarred peeled garlic. Yum!

I’ve built a nice pantry of staples, too—canned beans, hummus, and different kinds of broth. I feel like if I have the staples, some fresh or frozen vegetables, and a starch like rice or pasta, I can usually throw a healthy dish together easily on days when I’m pressed for time.

One of the biggest improvements I’ve made is changing my grocery-shopping habits. Before 12HH, when I headed to the store, I was on a mission: Get what’s on the list, and get out. But lately I find myself browsing a little more. I’ll purchase an item “just to have,” and I challenge myself to figure out creative ways to use it. Also, I always grocery shop on the weekends, so to keep from making so many last-minute trips during the week, I’m taking a bit more time and trying to organize my list better. So far, so good!