Many people know that breakfast is an important meal, but you may be surprised to learn the importance of dinner as well, particularly for families. Dinner provides a chance for families to bond and catch up on the day’s events, and it allows children to learn about cooking and trying new food. Research also shows that children who eat dinner with their families more frequently ate more fruits and vegetables and less soda and fries, and also achieved a better report card than children who eat dinner with their families less frequently.*
However, many families often have busy schedules, which can make it difficult to find the time to cook healthy meals and eat together. Below are some tips and meal ideas to help your busy family eat a healthy dinner together every night.
Plan ahead: One of the best ways to ensure a healthy meal is to plan it out ahead of time. When people are short on time, exhausted from a long day, or overly hungry, they often reach for food that cooks quickly with little effort. Unfortunately, these quick and easy foods are often frozen convenience foods that are high in sodium, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure.
A good way to plan dinners ahead is to take time during the weekend to write down what meals you think you will eat that week. Meal planning is something that children can help with, and is great way for kids to express their creativity with meal ideas. Encourage children to plan a vegetable with every meal.
Make enough for leftovers: When planning your week of meals, keep in mind recipes that make enough to have leftovers. If you make a large batch of food, you can freeze the leftovers to quickly reheat on another night. Crockpots and slow cookers are a great way to make a large and easily freezable meal. Crockpots can be used to cook soups, stews, chili, and even pasta dishes such as macaroni and cheese.
Prepare ahead: If you have time, get the whole family together Sunday afternoon and spend an hour or so preparing some of the dinners ahead of time for the week. Use this time to prepare food in the crockpot, cook meats to reheat later in the week, and cut up vegetables that you’ll want for dinners or snack time. You can also bake foods to eat for dinner, such as homemade lasagna, breadcrumb crusted baked chicken nuggets, or a pizza.
An example of a week of planned dinners:
Monday: Crockpot white bean chicken chili with peas
Tuesday: Monday leftovers
Wednesday: Whole wheat spaghetti with turkey meatballs and green beans
Thursday: Baked chicken nuggets with broccoli
Friday: Pepperoni and vegetable pizza
Saturday: Homemade lasagna and spinach
Sunday: Saturday leftovers
Last minute dinner rescues:
If for some reason you are unable to eat what you have planned, don’t fret! There are always last minute dinner ideas that can be made in 10 minutes or less. These include grilled cheese and tomato soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat bread with carrots sticks, tuna fish sandwiches on whole wheat bread with celery sticks, and whole-wheat pasta with marinara sauce and vegetables.