Yes, it can be tough to get a family meal on the table every night. Activity schedules, budgets, food preferences, and lack of resources/experience all add up to make regular family dinners harder to achieve. But does that mean that we shouldn't bother?
The short answer is no.
Yeah, I guess I could stop there, but instead I've put together some ideas to help your clients manage the family dinner minefield and put together healthful meals that everyone will love. These ideas are easy on the budget, short on prep time, and picky eater approved.
Okay, here goes...
Dinner Option #1: Assemble at the Table
My son was a picky eater when he was little, and I found that he would try more foods if he felt more involved in their creation. So why not serve the pieces of a meal and let the whole family assemble their own dinners from the options? This will also cut down on prep time for the cook and allow you to put out options that some people like without having to leave off everything that the rest of your family doesn't want. For example, if one of your kiddos hates tomatoes, with this approach you could chop some anyway and put it out for the rest of the family. The tomato-averse member of your family doesn't have to touch it, yet no one else is deprived of tomato goodness.
Table-Assembly Friendly Meals:
- Pizzas (assemble together, then bake)
- Rice or whole grain veggie bowls
Dinner Option #2: Foil and the Grill
You can cook an endless number of meals in 20 minutes without a lot of prep or cleanup by putting your foods on an oiled piece of foil and grilling them. After you've served your meal, recycle the foil and extinguish the grill. How easy is that?
Not sure where to get started? Check out The Beginner's Guide to Grilling.
Free Recipes for Grilled Meals:
- Healthful (and Quick!) Grilled Dinner
- Chicken with Grilled Fries and Asparagus
- Grilled Chicken and Chard
- Lamb Kabobs
- Grilled Sicilian Eggplant Rolls
As the days get cooler, roasting becomes the name of the dinner game. Chop a bunch of vegetables into pieces of roughly the same size, then toss them with some herbs and spices and throw them on a baking sheet. Add a few frozen chicken breasts or pieces of fish to a second sheet and put it in the oven too. All the pieces of your dinner should be ready at the same time. Plus, you can use the time while everything is roasting in order to set the table or catch up on the day's events with your family. It's a hands-off meal approach that's perfect for this time of year.
Free Recipes for Roasted Meals:
- Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken with Vegetables
- Roasted Turkey Breast with Cider-Baked Sweet Potatoes
- Baked Winter Squash
- Baked Fish with Rainbow Salsa
Dinner Option #4: Use a Pressure Cooker
Because of the way pressure cookers work, they shave a ton of cooking time from just about any recipe. It's easy to prepare cheap and cheerful meals with this one handy device.
In fact, I love pressure cookers so much that I wrote a basic guide to them. Here it is: Everything You Need to Know About Pressure Cookers.
Dinner Option #5: Make Planned-Overs
When you do have time to cook a more traditional meal, make planned-overs. These are like leftovers, but on purpose! You can make a double batch of a recipe and freeze the other half for a faster meal when you need it, or you can make versatile key ingredients and use them in new ways later. For example, you could roast 2 chickens instead of one and use the second in chicken salads, burritos, chicken and rice, etc.
- Roast Once, Serve 3 Times
- 25 Ingredients, 15 Meals
- Spaghetti and Lasagna: How to Turn Them Into Planned Overs
Of course, the fun doesn't stop here! I made this information into a fun handout that you can distribute however you'd like. Get your free copy of 5 Dinner Options anytime!
And yes, there's totally more in the store. Here are some basic cooking resources that no home cook should be without!
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.