If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of cooking dinner again this week (typical Dinner behavior, he’s so relentless), know that you are not alone. I’m venturing to guess at some point during your term as Parent, you’ve experienced some nagging feelings of guilt, overwhelm and obligation to feed your people something nourishing and not from a grease-stained brown bag (though, there is definitely a place for grease-stained bags during those weeks or when the mood strikes). Cut yourself some slack and set an achievable goal of cooking one or two simple meals this week. Scan the weeknight recipes page for some simple ideas and consider one of the following tips to make dinner healthier this week.
Eat together, at the table
This one is easy. At least once this week, mandate that all parties sit in chairs, set dinner plates on the dining table, and make eye contact with one another. This means devices are off. Your Facebook feed featuring your best friend’s cousin’s trip to Jamaica can most definitely wait. Start small. Aim for 20 minutes. And talk with each other about the best thing that happened to them that day. It will not kill them, or you. And if you needed any more validation that gathering the troops is worth your effort and their time, there is plenty of research to back you up. This summarizes it nicely.
Try a new whole grain
The win here is twofold — you’ll get out of a rice or pasta rut and you’ll expose your family to a new plant-based power food that may become a new favorite. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- For an almost instant side dish, try whole wheat couscous. This one is a favorite in my house when I need to pull dinner together in T-15 minutes.
- Prep some savory steel cut oats (aka oat-sotto) on Sunday to serve alongside pan roasted chicken or sauteed mushrooms during the week. Think risotto in texture, oatmeal in health benefits. Cook steel cut oats per package directions, using chicken or vegetable stock instead of water.
- Quinoa, duh. What’s great about quinoa is that it cooks in the same amount of time as white rice – about 20 minutes. Plus, it’s easy to prep ahead and use throughout the week, served either warm or cold. Try red or black quinoa to keep things colorful.
- Bulgur wheat is such an overlooked grain. It only requires a bowl, boiling water, and about 10 minutes to set. Serve cold, tossed in vinaigrette, or warm mixed in with some lentils or roasted vegetables.
- Farro is the new “it” grain, and for legit reasons. It’s an ancient grain that pack punches in the way of fiber, protein and antioxidants. It does take about 30 minutes to cook, so consider batch cooking some over the weekend. The “boil method” is my favorite way to cook it.
Skip the Meat
Planning a meat-free meal once a week is great for your gut and your bank account. Swapping animal protein for plant-based sources means more nutrients, like antioxidants and fiber, on dinner plates, and by now we can all agree more veg is always a good thing. Try a chickpea curry, black bean chili, or tempeh taco bowl (not as scary as it sounds, I promise!). You may discover a new fam-favorite for the dinner rotation. Plus, you’ll save a few bucks in the process. A one-pound bag of lentils costs about $1.50, versus $5-$8 per pound for chicken or beef.
Plan a Canned Seafood Meal
With their quick cooking times, fish and shrimp make for great weeknight dinner options. If you don’t want the pressure of managing their short shelf-life (fresh or thawed fish should be cooked within 24 hours) due to unpredictable weeknight routines, keep a couple canned seafood meals on retainer (like Everyday Salmon Patties or Italian Tuna Melts). These require minimal cooking, come together quickly, and bump up your family’s intake of omega-3s.
Serve a Veg-Heavy Smorgasbord
Even on their pickiest of days, if I set a plate of baby carrots and sliced cukes on the dinner table, 9 times out of 10 my kids will go for them (husband included). There is something inviting and super satisfying about a big plate or tray of finger foods. It’s just more fun and feels like a party. Dinner smorgasbords are great for end of week fridge clean-outs, no-time-to-cook nights, or for when it’s just too hot to turn on the oven. Fill a tray with fresh cut vegetables and fruits, nuts, hummus, beans, and dried fruit, then fill in the gaps with rolled up deli meats, sliced cheese, crackers, etc. Give younger kids a 6-cup muffin tin and let them fill each compartment with their picks.