By Elizabeth Stark, BrooklynSupper.net
Sitting down to a family dinner each night can be a powerful tool in promoting healthful eating. The family dinner doesn’t just give everyone time to catch up, it’s a chance to slow down and enjoy good food together. It’s also an excellent way to set a good eating example and get kids interested and involved in their meal. But even though the benefits of healthy family meals are clear, it’s tough to pull off night after night, especially on hectic weeknights.
The biggest obstacles to putting a wholesome meal on the table every night are time and money. Cooking dinner after a tough day of work when homework still needs to be done and bedtime is looming can be a daunting task. Couple that with the shock of seeing your receipt for seven days of food all at once, and fast food can start to look pretty appealing. Luckily, with a little meal planning, it’s easy to make the most of both your time and money while setting out meals you can feel great about. Here are some simple tips to help you plan your family’s weekly menu.
1. Plan meals that share ingredients
A lot of the work that goes into dinner is prep work like soaking beans and chopping vegetables. Plan meals for the week that share ingredients and just do the prep work once. Soak enough beans for two meals and have rice and beans Tuesday and burritos Wednesday. Make a fruit salad for dessert on Sunday night and reserve some of the fruit for use in a spinach salad on Monday.
2. Make meals on the weekend to serve on weeknights
Having only the window between getting home from work and getting the kids to bed for cooking and serving dinner can put a strain on any home cook. But a lot of dishes are just as good (or even better!) after a few days. Over the weekend, make a stew or a braise and a casserole to put in the refrigerator so on those busy weeknights, you just have to reheat and serve.
3. Let the store do some of the work.
When you’re cooking at home, it’s easy to feel like you want to do it all yourself, but on a busy night, it’s nice if some of the work’s already done for you. At the grocery store, pick up a pre-chopped pack of soup ingredients or some pre-peeled garlic and you’ll have a lot of the most tedious prep-work done, leaving you with more time to cook.
4. Make creative use of leftovers
One of the best ways to get the most out of your leftovers is to plan to serve them. If you have roast chicken one night, set aside some of the chicken for tacos tomorrow night. If you’re serving London broil, reserve a portion of beef for a quick beef and vegetable stir-fry.
5. When you do take a night off from cooking, use some of the time you’ve saved for future meals
All parents need a night off from cooking now and then. On those nights when you do order out, take a little bit of the time you saved to set yourself up for an easier night next time. Consider cleaning the kitchen for an extra 20 minutes, so things run more efficiently tomorrow, or do a little prep for the next night’s meal, like getting a stew started or pre-roasting vegetables.
A home cook with a passion for farm fresh ingredients, Elizabeth Stark has been chronicling her (mostly) seasonal cooking and baking ventures since 2008 on the blog Brooklyn Supper, where she and her husband Brian share simple, fresh recipes that anyone can cook. Recently relocated from Brooklyn, Elizabeth lives in the mountains of Virginia with Brian and their two daughters, and can usually be found messing up the kitchen or hunting for great ingredients at the farmer's market.