Dinner is an opportunity to get in nutrients, spend time with your family, and hopefully end the day on a high note. You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen to accomplish this task. When time is limited, or your day is crazy busy, or you forgot to thaw the meat, you can get a simple meal put together that is healthier than delivery, quicker than take-out, and still delicious. Here are a few tips to help you get dinner to the table lickity split:
- Fast does not mean unhealthy. Scrambled eggs are a perfect example of this tip. You can literally whip up a batch for your fam in five minutes. Throw some veggies into that scramble and serve with a side of whole-grain toast (or better yet, previously made pancakes – see above tip), and some fruit and you’ve got yourself a meal. Start roasting some veggies while boiling pasta. Mix it all together with some pesto, add in some sliced pepperoni – and again, like magic, you’ve got yourself a quick meal in no time flat.
- Add in veggies to boost the nutrition. Almost any meal can stand a side of veggies. Keep your favorites in the freezer to steam or sauce with the meal. Roast an entire sheet pan of veggies on the weekend to have on hand for the week. Shove those nutrient nuggets anywhere you can – tomato slices in your grilled cheese, diced mushrooms with your taco meat, cannellini beans in your spaghetti sauce – to add flavor, texture, color, and nutrition.
- Do not underestimate the sandwich, in all its forms. You can pack a lot of nutrition into a sandwich and there is more than the turkey/cheese or pb&j combo. You can use wraps, pita pockets, english muffins, bagels, or buns in addition to bread slices. The filling combinations are endless – try a veggie burger with hummus, or meat and cheese with refried beans. Amp up your basic meat and cheese by adding some jam to your turkey sandwich and sub goat cheese or cream cheese for your basic sliced cheese. Pita pockets are great filled with egg or tuna salad, really chunky (not runny) stew leftovers, or roasted veggies and feta cheese. Add a side of raw veggies and some crunchy chips to any of your sandwich combos and you’ve got yourself a quick, filling, and on-the-go meal if needed.
- The power of the Picnic. We utilize the picnic strategy when the day has been stressful busy and everyone just needs to chill and have more fun than the usual dinner shenanigans. Start with a serving platter or muffin tin (these work great for littles) and start filling with complex carbs – whole grain crackers, whole wheat bread; protein – deli meat, beans, edamame, hard-boiled eggs; fat – nuts, seeds, nut butters, cheese slices; fruits – sliced apples, grapes, dried fruit, anything will work here; and veggies – snap peas, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, carrots. Everyone can mix and match what they want and you can put “rules” such as have at least four different items on your plate or three different colors – whatever works for your family. Fast and fun, picnics are a crowd pleaser for sure!
You can also do work on the backend to get dinner to the table faster:
- Plan ahead. I know, this sounds like a misplaced tip for getting dinner ready in little time. But, this is to tuck in your back pocket for the days when you do have more time in the kitchen. When you’re making one of your family’s fave meals – make a double batch. Before you serve it to anyone – set aside half of it to freeze for a later date. This works really well for soups, stews, and casserole-type meals. You can also do this when you are cooking grains, preparing sauces, making pancakes and waffles, or doing anything that can be batched. This way you’ll always have something on hand to reheat when you don’t have time to make anything.
- Use theme nights with your meal planning. Though this might not save you tons of time in meal prepping, it can certainly save you time in meal planning. Knowing what you’re going to have for the night takes the stress out of the unknown for dinner. Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Picnic Wednesdays, Something New Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays are just examples. These are not set in stone, but can help guide you in what to choose.
The more you can see your kitchen as a place for convenient meals, the less you’ll rely on fast food and takeout for your convenience – which is ultimately better for your wallet and your health. YOU can create a quick and nutritious meal that serves as the centerpiece where your family gathers.