When your day moves too fast, and your evening moves even faster, making nutritious homemade meals can seem like an impossible dream. But with some planning and a few easy dinner recipes, you can cook healthy food for your family, any night of the week.
While it is easier to reach for processed food off the shelf, or call for take-out, homemade cooking is tops for nutrition – and for helping children see what it takes to feed and care for their own bodies.
Just a few years ago, a study from Johns Hopkins pointed up the benefits of home cooking. Lead author Julia Wolfson noted, “When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all – even if they are not trying to lose weight.”
Take these tips to create easy dinner recipes for your family
Make no mistake—it takes coordination and planning to cook healthy meals. Whether for you, friends, or family, healthy cooking is an important investment. It is a lot easier and often less expensive to buy processed food. However, when you are at home in your kitchen, nothing beats the love and life that gets mixed into homemade meals.
Let’s take a look at some steps you can take to feed a crowd, or just yourself, when you are in a hurry:
- Take a time-out before the week begins: It is tough to consistently make nutritious meals while on the go… On the weekend, take a look at your family schedule. Know who needs to be where, when, and on which days. When you have an idea of the whereabouts of your tribe, you will have a better idea of what meals to plan.
- Taco Tuesday — any day of the week: When conflicting schedules make it impossible for the family to sit down together, consider “make your own taco” night. Tacos are a popular, easy meal that gives kids what they love. Additionally, they are a first step to helping children understand the three main components of a healthy meal (proteins from fish, meats, and legumes for long-term energy, vitamins, and fiber from colorful vegetables, and carbs & some vitamins from rice, pasta or potatoes for short-to-medium-term energy).
Shred spring greens, dice scallions, cube tomatoes, grate your favorite cheese. Make healthy taco meat from turkey, chicken, or lean ground beef. Enlist your children to help you prepare the night before, and add more choices to suit tastes. Sliced avocado, baked corn tortillas, chiles, corn, olives, black beans, and sautéed bell peppers are outstanding additions. Consider adding shredded jicama, an underused but healthy vegetable that is low in calories but high in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and all the good things you are looking for in a vegetable.
The great thing about tacos is that you can plan your additions to include all the healthy food groups — and lots of ‘em. If you plan on tacos early in the week, the leftovers can sustain you for lunch and snacks for several days, depending on what you have left.
- A real favorite — macaroni and cheese: Mention macaroni and cheese as a healthy dinner recipe, and you might get a groan. Sure, it’s easy, but healthy? You bet. Too many people equate macaroni and cheese with a prefabricated, boxed dinner. In restaurants across the country, macaroni and cheese has been elevated to a high-ticket comfort food, and you can continue the tradition right in your own home.
Macaroni and cheese is a great meal for nights when everyone is home, or your family is eating in shifts. The critical thing to remember about macaroni and cheese is that it is not the whole meal. Serve with some greens, lightly steamed vegetables, or sliced apples. Or steam broccoli florets and include them in the cheese sauce.
Use higher fiber, white, whole-wheat macaroni to improve texture and your children will never know the difference. Take your pick of cheeses: American, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Gouda, Gorgonzola, or a mix of your favorite cheeses. Improve texture with Panko crumbs or other toppings. You are limited only by your imagination.
While you are planning your meals, you will run into nights where you have no time to cook.
These are great nights to make chicken soup or other meals using a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. And don’t forget the old standby—plan and make nutritious meals on the weekend and freeze them for use during the week.
There are many healthy dinner recipes for chiles, soups, casseroles, and main-course meats, that lend themselves to early preparation and short-term freezing without losing taste or texture. Be sure to remove the pre-cooked meal from the freezer in time to thaw, and warm in the oven or microwave. Add a side salad, crusty whole-wheat bread, or side dish to balance the nutrition; and you have a fully-cooked meal that is ready to go any night of the week.
Make healthy, easy dinner recipes on the go? Yes, you can!