Dinnertime can be one of the most frustrating times of the day. Whether you’re a SAHM or working mom, your days are FULL. So by the time 5:00 pm rolls around, you’re tired, hungry and the LAST thing you want to do is figure out what to eat for dinner.
At this point, it can be easy to grab something to feed the family fast. Quick fixes like frozen pizzas, macaroni and cheese, and fast food are all tempting choices when you’ve had a busy day and you’re just too tired to cook.
But, the most common misconception about cooking healthy dinners is that it takes a long time, and it’s complicated. The truth is that there are many healthy meals that are easy to prepare, and something that every mom can do no matter the grocery budget you have.
Whether you grew up eating fast foods for dinner or have just gotten into a rut, preparing healthy meals is a routine that anyone can learn and adapt into their family dinnertime plan. All it takes is a little planning ahead of time.
WHY YOU SHOULD COOK HEALTHY FAMILY MEALS
For many families in North America, fast food dinners have become a regular routine due to lack of time and energy in the evening. But unfortunately, these types of foods are full of the wrong ingredients that you want to fuel your family with. Preservatives and chemicals and processed ingredients are all tied to a variety of symptoms including mood swings, depression, lack of concentration, and can affect the sleep cycle (1).
Another side effect of eating fast food regularly is that it can create picky eaters in children. These kinds of fast foods are basically created in a lab to taste delicious. And for a child’s brain, it’s hard to differentiate why they can’t eat french fries all day (if they’re used to it) and should eat broccoli instead. The best way to eliminate this problem is to avoid these tempting foods as much as possible.
Now before I go any further I should say this, I’m not against eating these foods from time to time. And I’m also not here to give you a guilt trip. You’re a good mom and you work hard!
And as a health coach, yes my family has pizza nights, and my daughter eats french fries and cookies. But she also eats kale and broccoli. I really believe healthy eating it’s all about balance, not extremes.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO EAT HEALTHY FAMILY MEALS?
It is important to understand as we talk about healthy family meals that you have a realistic understanding of the word “healthy”.
Most of the wellness industry these days is all about extremes. When we think about healthy eating, it’s common to think that you need to completely avoid sugar, fats and carbohydrates, and basically only eat steamed vegetables.
This type of “dieting” isn’t what we’re focusing on here. Instead, we’re focusing on eating REAL food and introducing a variety of natural ingredients into our diet. Basically, this means, making home cooked meals, and avoiding packaged or processed foods whenever possible.
With that understanding, let’s talk about…
HOW TO HAVE AN EASY DINNER MEAL PREP
Before we can talk about easy dinner recipes to try, we need to talk about the elephant in the room… And that’s the reason why you’re not cooking healthy meals in the first place!
Let’s set the scene… you’ve had a long day. First, you took your child to their two doctor’s appointment, after that you hit up the library for some playtime and new books. Then, you ran a few errands, came home and did the entire family’s laundry, cleaned the bathroom, went to the grocery store to pick up laundry soap (because you forgot you’re out), followed by an afternoon playground visit.
Now it’s 5 o’clock and you’re pretty much exhausted. And rightfully so! This mom gig is HARD and we have so much on our plates! How are we supposed to muster up the energy to spend even MORE time in the kitchen?
This is when it feels really tempting to reach for the fast food.
But here’s the secret to avoiding this…
The key to successful family dinner recipes is to plan ahead. If you’re able to plan your meals in advance, you are much more likely to follow through with them at dinnertime.
How do you do this? Through two simple, but powerful steps:
- You create a meal plan for the week
- You batch prep easy ingredients in advance that you use in multiple meals throughout the week (think: quinoa, rice, lentils, roasted veggies, chicken breast, etc).
These two things will change your life. This is exactly what I do with my own family. And it’s amazing. Let’s talk about how it works…
HERE ARE 6 TIPS TO PREPARE HEALTHY FAMILY DINNERS WITHOUT BEING OVERWHELMED
It’s common to think that healthy meals have to be complicated to prepare OR boring to eat! But I believe the opposite is true. In fact, for the most part, I recommend you keep your dinner recipes really simple (with an occasional fancier dish on the weekends).
1. PLAN YOUR MEALS BEFORE YOU GO GROCERY SHOPPING
The first step to creating your healthy dinner time routine is to plan ahead on the weekend before the week starts.
It is important to do this before you go grocery shopping so that you can buy any ingredients you’ll need for the week.
For example, on Saturday morning you can plan out your weekly meals and then go to the grocery store.
2. FOCUS ON SIMPLE RECIPES
The simpler your recipes are, the easier your meal will be to create. When thinking about meals for the week, focus on easy to prepare dishes.
I like to focus on the rule of four: protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates and loads of vegetables.
For example, a dish might be pasta with roasted chicken and vegetables, and avocado dressing.
3. CHOP AND PREPARE IN ADVANCE
Some people like to do them immediately after they get home from grocery shopping.
For me, I like to do an hour of batch prepping for the week on Sundays. Usually, I will do this in the afternoon. I like to make it enjoyable by putting on my headphones and listening to music.
I wash and chop lots of veggies. Some are stored raw for quick snacks in the fridge. Others (like sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) will be roasted in baking sheets and stored for lunches and a few dinners (great for adding as sides to meals).
4. COOK A LARGE POT OF GRAINS AND STORE IT IN THE FRIDGE
Our weekly dinners consist of a base of either grain, pasta or beans. Over time, I’ve found that cooking a big pot of grains saves time and can be used in a variety of meals throughout the day (we’ve even had quinoa porridge for breakfast and it’s delicious!)
These foods are great because they’re easy to use and incorporate into a variety of dishes. Plus, they’re affordable!
Some of my favorite bases for easy dinner recipes include:
- Brown rice: Brown rice is a nutritious, whole grain food that is low in calories and easy to add to many dishes. We love brown rice in our family and eat it once or twice a week, including stir-frys, casseroles, and salads.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is often referred to as a “superfood” and is a great ingredient to add to almost every meal! Use as a base to make a quick buddha bowl for lunch, a mac n cheese alternative, inside a wrap, sprinkle it in your salads or eat it for breakfast instead of oatmeal. Did you know that quinoa is a seed and not a grain? If you have any sensitivities to grains in your family, then quinoa might be a good alternative.
- Brown rice pasta: Brown rice pasta is very affordable and works great in a variety of dishes. You can certainly use any type of pasta that you like, but we have a gluten allergy in our family and prefer this one for that reason.
- Lentils: Lentils tend to be easier to digest than some of the larger beans. I love lentils because they’re an easy and healthy toddler food! If I put a bowl of lentils sprinkled with a bit of sea salt in from of my daughter, she’ll happily eat them. I tend to add a spoonful to my lunch bowls, salads, wraps. They also work great in slow cooker soups.
5. KEEP THINGS SIMPLE WITH ONE-POT COOKING: BAKE IT, FRY IT, OR CROCK POT IT.
There is an ongoing theme throughout this post, and that’s to keep things simple. The same applies to how you actually cook your healthy supper recipes throughout the week.
Guys, in my opinion, this is the KEY to a healthy dinner time routine: I follow the one-pot rule. For the majority of our dishes, the cooking is done in one pot or pan.
We use the baking sheet method (or “sheet pan” as it can also be referred to) to cook many of our meals. Basically, the meat and vegetables are all laid out on a baking sheet and cooked together. Then I’ll serve these with some of the grains that are stored in a big pot in the fridge. It’s soooo easy and healthy!
The other two methods of cooking include stir-frys and using our slow cooker. So here are some examples of what easy dinner ideas could look like for you:
- BAKE IT: Cover a baking sheet with foil and lay out veggies and small chicken breasts. Season with coconut oil, salt and pepper, and herbs. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Toss veggies at halfway point. Serve with quinoa or rice and homemade dressing.
- STIR FRY: Stir fry veggies and pork. Boil pasta. Once pasta is cooked, toss together in frying pan and sprinkle with grated parmesan.
- SLOW COOKER: Add chopped veggies, chicken breast, chicken broth, salt and pepper, and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary to a crock pot. Set on low and let simmer for 4-6 hours or until chicken is fully cooked. Before serving, shred chicken and add a can of lentils. Want an easy soup to start with: try my crockpot hamburger soup recipe!
6. MAKE ENOUGH FOR LEFTOVERS
Now that you know all of the ways you can prepare simple healthy meals (slow cooker, baking sheet, and one pot/pan method) one of the biggest ways you can save time is to cook bigger batches and serve them as leftovers the next day OR freeze them for later. It’s a simple step, but it goes such a long way.
Well, we’ve finally reached the end of our list. Go back through and re-read each of the steps you’ll need to create really simple healthy family meals. Most importantly, understand that a little preparation and planning goes such a long way in healthy eating!