Healthy Shortcuts for Preparing Family Dinner

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It’s a school night and time to gather around the table for dinner. Your family has just completed a full day at the office or classroom, there’s probably an entryway filled with the detritus of various sports or activities. And yet as you open your fridge, you know there is nothing within to quickly toss in front of the pack of hyenas, excuse us, family, behind you. Not again, you groan.

If this is a weekly occurrence for you, don’t worry you are not alone. But never fear, below are some tips to get you and your family on the track to a healthy, wholesome dinner without too much extra work on your end. 

Do Prep Work Ahead of Time

Most likely, you and your spouse sit down at some point on the weekend to plan the week ahead to assist with balancing your jobs and home life. This is also a time to multitask by doing prep work for the meals you’ll be eating that week. You can also get your kids involved in this work too. Washing and storing your veggies will give you a lay of the land of what will be on hand for you. Chopping and mincing vegetables for meals ahead of time will save you precious minutes during the week. 

Take this time to pull meals out of your freezer too for defrosting (more on that later). If you want to start teaching your teenagers about cooking their own meals, you can also use these moments to sit down with them to discuss meal planning and make a grocery list based on it. They’ll thank you in the long run when they head off to college. 

But doing prep work also helps with removing stress from later in the week. You probably already de-stress with the help of techniques that work for your body’s needs, so just consider the prep work another way to reduce anxiety and other hassles that pop up.

Stock Up the Pantry and the Freezer

To protect yourself from those busy nights that pop out of nowhere, have meals or food items ready in your pantry or freezer. Proteins like canned tuna or beans are great for quick, healthy meals like salads and sandwiches. In your freezer, have shrimp on hand for a fast solution. The freezer is your friend when it comes to storing prepared meals. As long as you use the right storage containers, you can batch cook a meal and freeze it for use at a later date.

Don’t just think about your entrees either when stockpiling; also include snacks and family favorites. If you have those easily on hand, it can save you from making the switch to a takeout meal. In addition to snacking at home, these items are great for grabbing a meal on the go, which can happen on double-booked nights.

Batch Cook and Meal Plan

These terms might be interchangeable to some people, but the bottom line is the same. You need to put the work in ahead of time to avoid the ‘oh no there’s nothing in the fridge’ experience. Batching cooking is great for days when you’ve done a big grocery trip and want to immediately cook and store the meals you’ve planned. Again, this is a chance to include your kids in the process too. Assign easy tasks to your little ones, and allow the older kids to take on multiple steps. 

Meal planning can seem daunting at first, but you know the dishes your family likes best. For instance, in the winter you might favor stews and pot roasts, but in the summer you might switch to grilled meats and salads. And let’s not forget pizza party nights or Taco Tuesday. When you keep these meals simple, it’s easy to do the prep work ahead of time and keep the ingredients always in stock at home. 

In the long run, meal planning will also save you some money. Although grocery prices are on the rise, there are even more savings for you when your family isn’t eating out every night. The extra money you save can go towards the next family vacation, another good incentive for you and your kids.

Visit the Store–Often

There’s no shame in going to the store more than once, but do it with purpose. More and more stores are adding prepared meals to their offerings, making it tempting for you to swing through and grab a meal that only needs to be tossed into the oven at home. But don’t fall for it, those meals are often more expensive and not as healthy for you. When going to the store, go with a purpose and a plan, and stick to it!

Although you may do a big grocery buy once every two weeks, it’s not going to last your family long enough. Plus, veggies are perishable, and if your family is eating them quickly, they’ll go quickly. Replenishing your stock of fruits and veggies weekly is a good way to get your family to make healthy choices for meals and snack time. 

Keep Proteins on Hand

Eggs and chicken are two key proteins that your family can eat no matter what meal time it is. Eggs can be hard-boiled for a snack or scrambled for a fast breakfast or dinner. Chicken is very versatile, especially a rotisserie one. Once the meat is removed, you can use it in soups, sandwiches, salads, tacos, or pizza. A big plus of chicken is that you can store it long-term in the freezer, and pull it out as needed. 

But it’s not just fresh proteins to keep on hand. In the pantry keep nuts and tuna for a quick snack or appetizer for nights when you’re a little behind schedule. Although your kids might not like full nuts, peanut butter is another option, especially with celery.

Yes, dinner time is a hectic part of everyday life for your family. But by following some of the tips above, you can avoid that instance of having nothing to eat or having to run to the local fast-food spot. Involving your kids in the process will also prepare them for the future when they’ll have to do the cooking themselves. Healthy family dinners are not unattainable, you just need to put some work in ahead of time.

Sara Carter is a co-founder of Enlightened Digital. She enjoys spending her days writing about technology and business, writing code, or chasing her kids and dog.

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