With three kids at home I've been finding it a bit challenging to get healthy, balanced homemade meals on the table at a decent time (before 7pm). Even when I map out my day and try to be organized, I still find that I'm scrambling at 6pm (with a toddler climbing up my leg and two other kids whining because they’re hungry) trying to get dinner on the table. Gone are the days where I had three solid hours to prepare dinner, clean, relax etc. during nap time. So, I've had to become a bit more efficient when it comes to preparing meals and have discovered a few short-cuts.
Here they are:
1) PLAN AHEAD (EVEN JUST A LITTLE):
If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll likely be missing one (or several) of the ingredients that you need for dinner. If you are planning on having spaghetti but don't have pasta, well, there goes that plan. If you wanted to make homemade pizzas but don't have any cheese, I guess you're on to plan B. Get my drift? Meal planning for every single meal may seem a bit daunting and time consuming, but planning weeknight dinners is very doable and, trust me, it will save your sanity. Meal plan on your smart phone, on a piece of paper, or use a meal planning app. When you do your grocery shopping, make sure that you have a list of everything you need for your dinner meals so that you don't forget any key ingredients.
2) PUT A VEGGIE TRAY OUT WHILE YOU’RE PREPARING DINNER:
It’s like clockwork- every evening when I start preparing dinner, my kids run into the kitchen hungry and whiny. Requests for snacks are rampant and there are little fingers dabbling in dinner ingredients all over the place. Not only does this make it harder for me to prepare dinner, but it is also a patience tester (big time!). When dinner is finally served, like most young kids, they rarely eat a good portion of veggies.
Every evening, before dinner, I put out a veggie tray with dip (I rotate between various hummus, Ranch dip or Caesar dip) or individual raw veggie bowls with a dollop of dip. I include at least three different vegetables of different colours, and sometimes switch up how I cut them. And I say nothing and simply leave them out on the table or on the island. Before I know it, my kids are quietly munching away. Every. Time.
This trick keeps my kids busy while I prepare dinner, it takes the “hunger edge” off for them, and it lessens the pressure for everyone to consume enough veggies at mealtime. It’s a win-win-win.
Other pre-dinner nutritious snacks that work well? I love Baby Gourmet’s Mushies, Puffies or fruit and veggie squeeze packs! They’re convenient, simple and nutritious (and my kids love them!).
3) CHOOSE LEFTOVER-FRIENDLY MEATS:
Preparing and cooking the meat portion of the meal tends to be the most time-consuming, so why not save yourself the hassle of cooking a different meat every night and instead, make a leftover-friendly meat dish on Sunday or Monday that can get you through at least two or three left-over meals during the week. For example, on Monday night, roast a whole chicken and then use the leftovers for BBQ Chicken Pizza one night and healthy chicken fried rice another night. Trust me—this will save you a lot of time and energy. I can often get three or four meals out of one if I plan carefully.
4) BUY READY-TO-EAT VEGETABLES:
Ever notice that your veggies often spoil in the fridge? This is likely because they are stuck deep in the back somewhere, uncut and unwashed. What has really helped me is rinsing and cutting up my veggies as soon as I get home from the market or grocery store. Another easy solution is to buy ready-to-eat veggies like organic green salad mixes, pre-sliced mushrooms, mini cucumbers, snap peas, baby tomatoes, carrots, or raw veggie trays. These are great to toss in a salad, stir-fry, omelet, or to simply eat on their own. There’s no shame in buying pre-washed, pre-cut veggies!
5) HAVE "BRINNER"!
Breakfast-dinners are the best. Whether it's French toast or whole grain pancakes paired with Greek yogurt and fruit, or a muffin-tin veggie omelet on multigrain toast with salsa, having breakfast for dinner will save you lots of time, and make for a fun meal that the kids will love!
GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED:
You may think that involving your kids (especially your younger kids) in dinner prep will create chaos in the kitchen, but it can actually decrease the chaos. I know… sounds crazy, right?!
Here’s the thing… it allows your kids to focus on one task (minimizing the damage control that you may be doing during meal prep otherwise) and gives them a sense of pride in being a part of the dinner-making process. Pull up a stool and get your child to pour ingredients into a bowl, sprinkle seasoning on meat, or drizzle olive oil on veggies. Getting your kids involved in meal prep also provides both short-term benefits (they are more likely to eat it if they had a hand in creating it) and long-term benefits (cooking skills, confidence, healthy relationship with food).
For more nutrition tips for your kids and family, you can check out our nutrition and feeding section or my blog at www.sarahremmer.com!