I’m wrapping up the family meal planning series with some expert tips. These are food and nutrition experts who spend a lot of (productive) time in the kitchen. The goal of this series was to help you overcome the “time” barrier to getting rewarding meals on the table, so I hope it succeeded.
It’s all about taking different ideas and finding your own way. Once the routine is set, the stress of family meals can be replaced with pleasure. I still have stressful weeks (usually when I don’t plan) but it’s gotten easier.
To keep the spirit of meal planning alive, I plan to feature rock star moms (or dads) who have a good system for preparing meals. So if that’s you, send me a note!
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD www.RealMomNutrition.com
1. Stock up when you can: When boneless/skinless chicken is on sale, I buy a bunch, boil it, shred it, then freeze it in baggies. Then it’s ready for casseroles, soups, and burritos/tacos.
2. Try batch cooking whenever possible: If I’m making a turkey meatloaf, I double the recipe and put one in the freezer. Same for lasagna and turkey meatballs (can be used with pasta and then I make small ones for soup).
3. Plan for weekends too: A lot of people plan their week’s meals but end up ordering out or going out all weekend because they didn’t have a plan.
4. Try “Pot-luck” nights: This is a much-needed break for me and can be just as healthy as a more elaborate meal. I’ll make PBJs on whole grain bread plus fruit and veggies for the kids, I’ll have a big salad, and my husband will have soup or leftovers. We still sit down and eat together and have that family mealtime experience, but it’s much quicker to prepare (and helps get rid of leftovers and odds and ends).
Janice Bissex MS, RD and Liz Weiss, MS, RD, authors of The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time!
5. Rely on convenience foods but choose wisely: Some of our favorite nutrient-packed convenience foods include frozen fruits and vegetables, canned beans, frozen ravioli and tortellini, pre-shredded reduced fat cheeses, and jarred pasta sauce and salsa. We recently posted a fast broccoli & bean soup recipe to our blog that busy moms can have on the table in minutes.
6. Turn to appliances that deliver fast meals: Two of our favorites are the slow cooker — it’s best to organize all ingredients the night before so in the morning, moms can load up the slow cooker before heading out the door — and the pressure cooker. Modern-day pressure cookers are safe to use and help to get nutritious meals on the table in minutes. Here’s a delicious risotto recipe using the pressure cooker.
7. Mise en place: This is a French term for “everything in its place.” We encourage busy parents to measure out and chop up all ingredients ahead of time so when dinner rolls around, they’re ready to go! Doing this the night before or any time parents have a few free minutes is a great strategy. And having a nonstick skillet in the kitchen is also great … because it means less mess and clean-up required.
8. Choose foods from each group of the food pyramid: Pyramid your pantry so you can easily select items that fit.
9. Combine homemade items with those that are prepared, like salads in bags, canned fruit, pasta/veggie combinations.
10. Have little ones help out: Make dinners that the family can help with, i.e., wrapping tortillas, quesadillas; packing a pita pocket; stuffing a baked potato.
11. Create combo meals: Try stir fries, casseroles and all-in-one skillet meals.
Kathleen Cuneo, PhD www.dinnertogether.com
12. Put a support system in place: Get help from older children, neighbors, your spouse or other parent friends. For more on how to do this see Putting a Support System in Place.
Feel free to add your own time-saving tips in the comments!
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