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Tips for Taking the Stress Out of Healthy Family Dinners

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Planning ahead and organization are the keys to stress-free family meals. When it comes to shopping, cooking and eating healthy, there is not a universal approach. You need to find a system that works for you and your family.

First you need to discover your cooking personality. Decide whether you are a:

  • Kitchen Warrior – Any trick is fair game in getting meals on the table fast.
  • Kitchen Procrastinator – 1-800-TAKE-OUT is on speed dial.

To attack the six o’clock scramble when you are hungry and the kids are screaming for rations, there are some basics to master. Success comes with developing a meal plan, having a well-stocked pantry and quick meal ideas in your bag of kitchen tricks.

1. Make a menu or meal plan. This helps maximize your time, save you money and minimize waste, along with the added benefit of healthier eating. You will also need to assess your family’s food habits and needs. Cooking for one, two or eight? How many meals will you eat at home for the week?

The MyPlate system is a great guide for planning. Variety, balance and moderation are the key elements to planning a healthy diet.

2. Use your resources! Try the many meal planning apps and websites available on your smartphone:

  • The Menu Planner lets you store your favorite recipes, create shopping lists and meals plans, and keep track of what is in your pantry shelves. (available in iTunes, $2.99)
  • Supercook allows you to type in the ingredients you have in your pantry and a search engine finds recipes you can make with those ingredients.
  • Once a Month Mom helps you plan and freeze an entire month of meals for your family. You can choose from various menu options such a vegetarian, gluten-free or traditional. ($8.00 for monthly membership, $72 for year membership)   

If you prefer a more traditional method, the 7 Day Menu Planner for Dummies is a great resource.  If meal planning does not fit your lifestyle, develop a list of list of easy meals you can prepare using 25 of your top favorite ingredients.

3. Find inspiration. Use sources like recipes, magazines, Pinterest and supermarket food advertisements to find meal ideas and food specials. You may also find inspiration by planning meals around local seasonal produce. Before you begin to cook, take inventory to check your refrigerator, freezer and pantry for ingredients you have on hand.  When possible, involve the family and make your menu one that everyone looks forward to all day!

4. Make a grocery list. Remember to write out a complete list with all of your grocery needs for the week and take it to the store. Weekly planning helps you to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store. When you head to the store try to buy what is on your list to avoid impulse buying; unless something is on sale and you can stock up for the future.

If you are looking to learn the savviest tips for shopping, take a Grocery Tour. A Cooper Clinic registered dietitian can be your personal healthy meal planner and teach you to select healthy food options to achieve your nutrition goals.

When you unpack your groceries, opt to pre-prep of some ingredients if time allows. Chop the veggies and place in plastic bags or divide the meat into family sized portions. This simple step will keep you organized for meals that can be prepared ahead of time.

5. Mix and match simple ingredients into quick and easy mealtime solutions.  Instead of cooking from scratch every night, cook a family favorite and morph it into two or three different meals for the week.  

Grill a salmon filet with a wholegrain side dish and two of your favorite grilled vegetables. The next day serve the grilled salmon over a bed of fresh greens and wrap the leftover vegetables in a wholegrain tortilla for a delicious veggie wrap.

Buying a rotisserie chicken is one of the best dinner shortcuts. You can morph this family favorite into so many wonderful healthy dishes. Slice and serve the chicken over a bed of your favorite greens with a variety of raw veggies and drizzle with light dressing. Another quick option is to slice and quickly stir-fry it with your favorite veggies and a store-bought teriyaki sauce. Serve it with brown rice, and you have a well-balanced meal.

6. Focus on what’s familiar and transform every day ingredients. Choose fifty familiar foods and use those everyday ingredients in tasty, no-fuss meals your family will love. To simplify your meal planning, take one of those ingredient and list out three to four ways to prepare it.  

For example, try eggs and egg whites. You can serve them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Scramble eggs with onions and bell peppers and serve in a wholegrain tortilla with favorite salsa for Huevos Rancheros. For a different meal, you can hard boil the eggs and chop them with celery and light mayonnaise, and serve on wholegrain bread for an egg salad sandwich. Another quick, delicious meal would be adding more veggies and making a French Market Frittata.

To help you find the best approach for your family, consult a registered dietitian. 

For more information about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, click here or call 972.560.2655.