5 Tips To Make Healthy Weeknight Meals Easier On The Whole Family
I ran into a friend on the bus ride home from work the other day and he got me thinking about healthy weeknight meals.
He was a bit stressed out because a meeting ran late at work; this meant that he would be late picking his kids from their day home. He knew that the kids would be tired, hungry and cranky and thought that it would just be easier to pick up a Little Caesar’s pizza for dinner. He knew they should eat healthy weeknight meals but the kids’ early bedtime dictated that they had to eat right away.
After all, making dinner takes time and when kids are hungry, they want food NOW!
So, I said, “you need a slow cooker!” And he paused and considered this, and said that may be a good idea if they were to get one with a timer.
This got me thinking: What other time-saving (and sanity-saving) advice could I provide to people? Have I even evolved my experience with cooking healthy weeknight meals to the point where I CAN give advice, especially to people with children to feed?
I may not have kids who want to eat RIGHT NOW because they are SO HUNGRY after school or work. But I do have a husband who, short of a temper tantrum, can get pretty hangry if he’s not fed as soon as we get home.
I joke that he’s going to be primed for life in a retirement community where dinner is served between 4 and 5 pm! That’s always when he’s ready to eat.
Dinner Can Be Quick And Easy!
There is a misconception that a healthy weeknight meal has to be time-consuming and difficult. In my experience, though, healthy eating can be just as convenient and easy as throwing together a quick spaghetti and tomato sauce meal or heating up a can of soup.
Check out my 5 tried-and-true tips for quick, healthy weeknight dinner meals that will keep you family happy, healthy and hard-pressed to complain. (Or, at least keep your hangry husband happy!)
Use your slow cooker!
You know that pot with a timer and settings for ‘Low’ and ‘High’ on it? You may have received one (or three) for your wedding shower? Pull that thing out from the basement and start using it. Just make sure your slow cooker has some flexibility in temperature and cooking time.
TIP: Find recipes that don’t require you to pre-cook anything (those are the worst). Chop any veggies the night before and keep them in the fridge. Get up 5-10 minutes early the next morning and throw the ingredients into the slow cooker, turn it on and away you go!
Stick to the rule of 5.
Spend an hour each week searching for recipes that have 5 or fewer ingredients (excluding spices, because they’re easy to add). Ideally, choose recipes with no more than 2-3 vegetables to chop so you’re not spending too much time on the cutting board. These recipes are simple to prep, cook and typically clean up.
TIP: Look for recipes that are 20 minutes or less to complete.
Learn to love leftovers.
If you don’t like leftovers, I’m sorry for you! No, there isn’t anything wrong with cooking a fresh meal every evening but leftovers have saved my life (and my relationship) a few times. When we cook dinner, we typically choose 2 dishes to make each week and double both so that we have leftovers for those nights later in the week when we’re just too tired to care to cook. (Anyone else ever feel this way? Thursday hits and you’re reaching for the pizza menu?)
TIP: Cook up a huge batch of some of your homemade favorites like chili, stew or soup on the weekend. Put enough aside in containers to feed your family 1 or 2 nights the following week and then portion out the rest into freezer-safe containers and store these for those extra hectic nights where you just didn’t have time to plan ahead!
Prep food ahead of time.
Plan your weekly meals on the weekend, buy your groceries Saturday or Sunday morning, and then spend an hour or two chopping vegetables, portion out protein, pre-cooking lentils or beans. Try to see what you can prep ahead of time so that your meals involve you tossing stuff into a pot and walking away for 20 minutes. There is nothing that turns me off a recipe more than when I come home starving and tired and have to peel and chop a sweet potato!
TIP: Cook a whole chicken on Sunday and use the meat throughout the week in different meals. You can add it to chili instead of using beef. Top a garden salad with a few pieces of chicken breast for a quick and exceptionally healthy meal. Be creative!
Get everyone involved.
Get Everyone Involved
Give yourself a break and have everyone who is dying to eat NOW pitch in and help you make dinner. Give the kids something safe to do, like break the ends off asparagus spears (this sounds fun, right? I’ll let those of you with kids be the judge of what is safe!). Use the magic of distraction to keep their minds off how hungry they are while teaching them some great life skills too.
TIP: If having the kids in the kitchen with you drives you bananas, ask them to set the table or get the living room cleaned up and ready so that you can all watch their favorite show together after dinner. Or give them a small snack that they can munch on while you cook, like fresh veggies or an apple.
Don’t these sound like way better ideas than Little Caesar’s pizza?
Nutritious foods will also nourish your family and help stabilize mood, promote better sleep and improve brain power and cognition.
But Mom! I’m DYING of Starvation!!!
“Okay, Daina, great ideas. But what do I do when my kids (and I) are ravenous as soon as we get home (and getting a bit cranky)?”
Sometimes it’s just impossible to distract your family (and yourself) from how hungry you are when you arrive home. It’s this hunger that can lead to nibbling through dinner preparation or overeating sweets and junk before dinner, leaving you too full of crap to enjoy your healthy meal.
No problem! Whip up some of these super easy, very fast snack ideas when you get home to tide you over until your super easy, delicious dinner is ready.
5 Snacks in Less Than 5 Minutes
1. Slice up a banana and drop a bit of all natural nut butter on top.
2. Toss some whole grain bread in your toaster. While it toasts, mash an avocado until it’s smooth. Spread the mashed avocado over your toast and cut it into bite sized pieces.
3. Throw some fresh or frozen fruit, a cup or two of dairy-free milk, a scoop of your favorite protein powder, and a bit of cinnamon into a blender. Blend until smooth and serve!
4. Put some raw nuts and a few grapes on a plate and enjoy!
5. Place a couple of spoonfuls of coconut milk yogurt in a bowl, top with chopped nuts and fresh berries.
I know how hard it can be to prepare dinner and maintain a sense of calm when you’re starving and have people hassling you with the “when’s dinner?” question.
Keep your sanity by tossing together some quick, good-for-you snacks before you prepare dinner. And then make sure you’re ready to create a wonderful, delicious dinner that your whole family will love.
Got your own life hacks to maintain calm and enjoy healthy weeknight dinner meal when you’re exhausted after work? Please comment below – I’d love to hear what works!