What’s For Dinner, Mom?

Reservations? But seriously, how many us can answer this question without any hesitation and how many don’t require a phone or car keys to implement the solution?

One of the biggest challenges facing today’s busy parents is feeding a hungry growing family healthy meals on the go. It’s so much easier to order take-out, make a quick run through the drive-thru, or –SHRIEK!– nuke some flavorless frozen cardboard. With all the sports practices and dance classes we find ourselves racing to each week, one would expect today’s youth to be a generation of muscular, cardio-vascular machines. Yet childhood obesity is on the rise. One look at the fast food and junk food wrappers strewn across the backseats of many a minivan is all it takes to unravel that mystery. But what’s a busy working mom (or dad) to do?

Every good parent knows how important it is to give their child a loving home, a good education, and a variety of opportunities for building confidence and self-esteem, but many fail to recognize that good nutrition is an important building block for all of the above. Without a healthy diet, kids can’t perform their best physically or academically. Self-esteem and confidence begin to suffer and that loving home turns stressful and tense. But your healthy family dinner doesn’t have to get gobbled up by your busy family schedule. You can have your (rice)cake and eat it too. All it takes is a little advance planning and some determination.

The key ingredient is a weekly menu plan chock full of quick and easy recipe ideas. Now when I say “recipe”, I don’t necessarily mean a written recipe. The quickest meals to prepare  are the ones you can do without reading. But not everyone is blessed with the Julia Child gene, so if creative cooking isn’t your thing, find a good resource you like for healthy but fast recipes and keep it close by. (Some of my favorites are Ellie Krieger’s So Easy and The Food You Crave, The Sonoma Diet Cookbook by Connie Guttersen, and the Eating Well app for iPhone.)

Next, you’ll need your calendar and a shopping list. The calendar is key because you need to know what’s on the agenda for each night of the week in order to plan meals that will fit into your schedule.

Armed with recipes, calendar and shopping list, sit down and plan your menu for the week. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Incorporate some variety. (I like to plan a variety of poultry, beef, lean pork, fish, and  vegetarian meals each week)
  • Give yourself a break. Plan at least one super-simple meal each week for the busiest night. For example, you can serve soup and sandwiches or pick up a rotisserie chicken at the super-market and pair with a salad and some multi -grain bread. Another favorite in my house is homemade veggie pizza using a store-bought pizza crust and fresh veggies. No one said you have to make everything from scratch.
  • Make more than you need and freeze the leftovers or use them in a meal later in the week.
  • Prep in advance. Chop all the vegetables you need for dinner the night before or in the morning or buy pre-chopped versions. Make use of your crock-pot so you can switch on and go before work.
  • Get the kids to help. If they are old enough, make them your sous chefs. As they say,”Many hands make light work.” An added bonus is the quality time you’ll be spending together. Play your cards right and you just might be able to put them in charge of making dinner one night a week!
  • Snack early, dine later. Stock the fridge with healthy snacks for before practice and use the time during practice to cook dinner for afterwards.
  • Make your shopping list as you plan so that you are sure to have everything you need on hand. If using recipes, make note of the cookbook and page number right on your menu plan so there’s no fumbling around for the recipe later.
  • Remember to include side dishes in your menu plan so that you aren’t scrambling to figure out what vegetable to serve with it on the day of. (Fresh fruit also makes a great no-fuss side dish.)
  • Post your menu on the fridge. Not only will it remind you of your game plan when you’re making breakfast, but chances are, you won’t have to hear “What’s for dinner, Mom?” because they will already know.

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