By the end of any given weekday, we have packed lunches, kissed foreheads, gone to work, driven carpool all over town, and now...now it is time to cook dinner.
Here are twenty quick and easy dinnertime tips that can also make for magical family memories.
1. Have lots of fresh vegetables on hand. I love putting out a plate of veggies for my kids to snack on before dinner. Anything that is still on the plate at dinnertime is simply placed alongside our other choices on the dinner table.
2. While you are at the supermarket, pick up some fresh herbs. These take no time at all to throw in to virtually any recipe, but they make all the difference in the flavor of your food. It is especially nice to have fresh basil, mint, and cilantro on hand.
3. Teach your kids about the balance of food on their plate. Discuss how many food groups are represented. To make this more fun, we ask our kids if they are eating a square meal with all four food groups. And if not, is it a triangle, (three food groups), a line (two food groups), or a dot (one food group)? Thinking of their choices in this way helps my young kids to visualize their choices and to strive for a square with each meal.
4. Hang a dry erase board on the wall or the refrigerator with the name of each family member. Beside their name, they can write the number of fruits and vegetables or make a note of the healthy choices they made that day.
5. Do not assume your kids want or need fattening spreads or sugary sweeteners to dress up their food. Two of my children actually prefer toast without butter, waffles without syrup, and salad without dressing.
6. Chop vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower in a food processor, and add it to soups, pasta sauce, chili or stews.
7. Be a good example. The more healthy foods you eat, the more likely your kids will be to eat it, too (eventually).
8. Use the slow cooker. Often, there are times during the day that are less hectic than the dinner hour. Choose a time that is less hassled and make a quick crock pot recipe. My kids love to help add ingredients to the slow cooker.
9. Make a casserole. Cooking Light magazine features some wonderful quick dinnertime or make ahead casserole recipes (also available online at CookingLight.com.) Casseroles can be a great place to sneak in even more veggies.
10. Use the electric indoor grill. I use mine to take chicken from frozen to the table in less than 20 minutes. And then I grill vegetables in 5 minutes. Everything tastes so fresh, healthy and delicious. I do not know what I ever did without mine.
11. Create a Bar. My kids love sandwich bars, pasta bars, taco bars, and potato bars. Put out the essentials and some healthy fillings and toppings, and you have a great meal where everyone is in control of what they eat.
12. Delivery! We love pizza, and many places (especially the more gourmet pizza restaurants) now feature healthy choices, featuring pizzas loaded with fresh vegetables. We order a veggie pizza and one with just cheese, just in case the kids are not in the mood for spinach on their pie.
13. There is more to take out than the traditional fatty fast food fare. Find a few restaurants that offer quick, healthy take out. There certainly is no shame in ordering food to go.
14. Involve your children in the cooking and baking process. Focus on creating positive memories before, during, and after mealtime. This can be a fun time of togetherness, so ask yourself: what would make it more enjoyable for your family members? For example, you might let your kids play their favorite music while they help you prepare dinner, make the salad or set the table.
15. Involve your children in the grocery shopping. Let them read labels with you and help you to make healthy decisions for the family.
16. Make meals a family affair. Family meals are tremendously important. Not only will you be more conscious of what kinds of foods your children are eating, but it will make a ritual out of the family mealtime, which may help to discourage unhealthy snacking before meals.
17. Drink only milk or water with dinner. Soda and other sugary beverages can fill up your kids with empty calories, leaving less room for the good stuff.
18. Demonstrate your reverence for the peaceful family dinner by initiating special rituals even for everyday occasions. Eat on the good china, or try dimming the lights and dining by candlelight.
19. During dinner, talk about the health benefits of various foods on your plate. Before they eat something, my kids will often ask, "What does this food do for my body?" And then we explain in regard to the specific food. This may require you to do some research in advance (or as a family) so that you are familiar with the vitamin and nutrient contents of your favorite meals.
20. Turn off the TV and radio and dial up the conversation. If your kids are not talking or they are bickering, distract them by asking about their favorite part of the day. Everyone gets a turn, and you get a peaceful mealtime. You might enjoy it so much that you will want to celebrate breakfast together, too.
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