Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RD, LDN
Life can be tough on family dinnertime. In addition to work and school schedules, there are sports practices and games, lessons, homework and friends. With all the rushing around, it's easy to slip into the fast-food lane or microwave habit with everyone eating at different times and places.
Bringing balance back into busy evenings is well worth the effort. Your whole family will feel better when they are eating delicious, nutritious meals together. Fortunately, there are several very simple steps that can help families get a tasty dinner on the table easily and quickly. It all starts with a little planning and meal time organization. Then, get everyone involved in preparing and serving the meal. When everybody pitches in, no one feels overwhelmed.
Here are a few easy and effective approaches to the dinnertime dilemma.
Have a Week's Worth of Menus in Mind
Whether you write them down or keep them in your head, you need five to seven kid-tested, parent-approved main dishes. Pick options that are easy and popular with everyone. Once you have an entrée, such as tacos, spaghetti, oven-baked chicken or slow-cooker stew, all you have to add is a vegetable and/or fruit and perhaps a whole-grain roll to complete the meal.
Keep Your Kitchen Stocked with Quick-to-Fix Foods
Whenever you shop, look for specials on staples (rice, pasta, beans, etc.) as well as frozen and canned fruits and vegetables with little or no added salt or sugars. With a wide variety of tasty choices on hand, you'll only have to worry about the main dish when it's time to make dinner. Add fresh produce items when in season.
Prepare Multiple Batches of Main Ingredients
If you're cooking ground beef, it's just as easy to cook a double or triple batch. Freeze extra servings to reheat for tacos or casseroles. Try slicing, marinating and freezing extra beef, pork, chicken or fish for stir-fry dishes. Drop any one of these protein options into a wok or skillet for quick cooking on a busy night.
Get the Whole Family Involved from Start to Finish
The evening meal doesn't have to be one person's responsibility. Even very young children enjoy being involved in planning and preparing healthful meals. Assign age-appropriate jobs, such as choosing the fruit for dessert, mixing pre-cut vegetables into a salad, setting the table with unbreakable dishes or clearing the dishes afterwards.