By Carrie Brown Reilly

Eating right can be a big challenge, especially in winter. More than in any other, eating well this season means slowing down, taking the time to be home and taking the time to cook.

With the holiday season upon us, the last thing we do is slow down. We actually speed up, rushing around between events even more than usual. But eating well comes through good cooking, and good cooking requires time spent in the kitchen.

Usually, we like to “whip something up” in 30 minutes or less. After all, who has time to be in the kitchen two to four hours a day, seven days a week? I am a busy, working mom with busy, hungry children, and life seems a lot less stressful when I can just “grab-and-go” pre-prepared meals.

But cooking is probably the most important activity we do as human beings. It is what gave us more free time; instead of standing around chewing raw foods into digestible elements all day, we have more energy and time to socialize and engage in higher thought. And cooking, rather than foraging, creates a sense of warmth for my family.

The yummy aromas of breakfast should be what get you out of bed in the morning. And if breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, then let it be hot out of the oven. We need to hear the oil sizzle as it hits the skillet, smell the coffee as it’s percolating, watch our breads rise to perfection as they bake —literally, to come to our senses before we put rubber to the road. So take that apple you would put in your mouth while you lace up your shoes on the way out the door, and instead put it in the oven with some honey, butter, and cinnamon. That’s what winter eating is all about.

I also want my family to come in from the cold to a warm house that smells like dinner and to feel refreshed knowing that a hot meal is on the table. Mealtime is as much about connection as it is about what is on the plate. Celebrations are fundamental to family life and community, but how we eat, both in what we eat and who we eat with, is also important every day, not just during the holidays.

One of the main ingredients in healthy eating is found in conversation while gathered around the table: it is love, nourishing our lives and our relationships.

Of course, all that takes time. How do you balance family mealtimes with the rigors of modern-day schedules? You can use time-savers like crock-pots, pressure cookers, and meal kits. Many ovens today come with a “delayed start” feature that is perfect for roasting winter root vegetables. Time-savers are also money-savers because eating out is expensive and can tax your digestive system. It’s really not so much about “having” time, but “making” time, and making home-cooked meals a priority.

Need inspiration? You can find it everywhere. Start a conversation with friends and family, hit up a bookstore, or browse free online resources.  My absolute favorite creative influence on cooking is actually Michael Pollan. His book Cooked makes a perfect holiday gift, but it can also be found on Netflix as a four-part, family-friendly documentary. Perfect for a cold winter evening!

No matter how you celebrate the holidays, make sure those celebrations include quiet evenings with happy bellies and warm hearts.