Healthy dinner tips for busy families

Is your family’s nutrition suffering because of hectic schedules? Evening baseball games, piano lessons, homework, PTA meetings, soccer practice… the list goes on and on. But you don’t have to rely on fast food and pizza. Here are five easy and convenient ways to improve your family’s nutrition.

1) Stock the pantry, fridge and freezer with healthy foods.

Your first step should be to take stock of what you have at hand. Keeping a well-stocked kitchen is the key to quick, easy and convenient meals and snacks. Pantry looking bare? Get out pen and paper and start making your shopping list.

In your cupboard. Make sure you have plenty of pasta (blended whole grain and white), quick-cooking brown rice, lentils, low-sodium soups, canned tuna and beans, whole-grain crackers, rice cakes, dried fruit and nuts.

In your fridge. Keep light cheeses, cottage cheese, yogurt, natural peanut butter, low-fat mayo, eggs, natural peanut butter, whole-wheat breads and English muffins, and plenty of fruits and veggies.

In your freezer. Stock frozen fruits and veggies, chicken breast, lean hamburger, ground turkey, shrimp, salmon, turkey and veggie burgers, and frozen whole-grain waffles.
2) Use convenience foods mixed with fresh foods.

Certain canned or frozen foods can serve as the base for a nutritious meal, especially when they are combined with fresh vegetables and quick cooking grains.

Saute onions, carrots and garlic in olive oil. Add a can of tomato soup and a can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Heat and serve.

Saute onions, mushrooms and zucchini. Mix with leftover brown rice or pasta. Add a can of stewed tomatoes.

Use frozen dinners as a base, and add to them. Beware of the sodium content. Serve with a large salad and a whole-grain roll to round out the meal.

Buy a rotisserie chicken and pair it with quick-cooking brown rice and fresh or frozen vegetables.

Grill or broil turkey burgers and put them on whole-wheat buns. Serve salad or broccoli on the side.
3) Make extra food and use your leftovers.

Don’t toss your leftovers. With some creativity, you can turn them into tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.

Use leftover chicken in a salad for lunch, or add it to a canned vegetable soup for extra protein.

Put last night’s chili on a baked potato for tonight’s dinner.

Add extra pasta to soup or a casserole, or make it into a pasta salad with leftover veggies and bottled olive oil-based dressing.

Make two or three servings of homemade oatmeal with skim milk, raisins, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Portion out one serving and store the rest in the fridge. Heat and serve it the next morning.
4) Cook in bulk and freeze it for another day.

When you have the time, make bigger batches of food and then freeze it in containers. Foods that lend well to this include:

Lasagna
Meatballs
Casseroles
Chili
Homemade muffins or quick breads
Meatloaf
Soup or stew
5) Think outside the box for dinner.

Your evening meal doesn’t have to be meat and potatoes. Sometimes, breakfast-type foods can work as well. Try:

Scrambled eggs or cheese and veggie omelets with whole-wheat toast and fruit

Frozen whole-grain waffles topped with yogurt and fruit

Natural yogurt (or cottage cheese) mixed with chopped fruit and nuts

Oatmeal made with skim milk and topped with sliced bananas and walnuts
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