Summer’s nearing its end, kids are going back to school, and then what happens? Most families have less time to make dinner.
You might already be hearing the nightly question “What’s for dinner?” at your house. Don’t have the answer? Don’t worry. Preparing healthy meals the whole family will love doesn’t have to be complicated. If you remember to keep them simple, prep ahead of time and plan for busy schedules, it can be a snap to put dinner on the table.
Here are 10 tips that will solve your dinner dilemmas and keep family time around the table an important part of your household routine:
Plan the week’s meals. Planning ahead lowers stress. Plus, the time you take to plan your family’s weekly meals is well spent. Sit down with an easy meal planner or just good old fashioned pen and paper. Write down ideas for balanced meals. Pick a day and make it a habit. Try these apps if you need a little help: Cozi, Meal Builder, Noom, Meal Board.
Keep it simple. New to planning meals? Then just focus on planning one serving from each of the five food groups (grains, fruit, vegetables, protein, dairy) every meal. This will help you keep balance, variety and nutrition in mind.
Make a go-to recipe collection. Create a spreadsheet of go-to recipes your family loves. Add new meals when you find easy, delicious and healthy ones you want to keep and make again. Staying organized keeps ideas and recipes at your fingertips — and saves time and anxiety.
Shop smart. Make your grocery list based on the meals you have planned. This helps you avoid impulse buys, stick to your budget and nix those extra trips to the store for forgotten items.
Embrace make-ahead meals. I love making soups and stews on the weekend that I can reheat and eat. Just add a salad and a serving of whole grains — even bread is fine. It’s perfect for busy weeknights.
Think bigger. Prepare family-sized servings (from those five food groups) that can be dipped into throughout the week. Assemble a large salad, chop up a variety of veggies, cook a pot of pasta, roast (or purchase) a whole chicken. These foods can be added to many different recipes: soups, soft tacos, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes.
Cook once, eat twice or thrice. This one goes along with the “think bigger” tip. Cook once and eat two to three different meals from it. Leftovers give meals a headstart. Turn salmon leftovers into seafood chowder, fish tacos or a salmon Caesar salad.
Shop online for groceries. There are a lot of online and delivery services available these days (in-store or independent) to make grocery shopping easier. They can help you manage your time, your energy and your grocery list.
Stock your pantry wisely. Buy canned and frozen foods to streamline your cooking. Turn to meats, veggies, fruit, beans, broth, tomatoes, etc. This will save you time, money and effort.
Batch cook and freeze meals. Nothing is better than realizing you have a few frozen meals to fall back on if you are sick, tired or just delayed at work. They are dinner savers.
Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement.
Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health and wellness coach and founder of Total Health. Visit www.totalhealthrd.com or www.facebook.com/totalhealthnutrition for more. Follow her on Twitter @healthrd.