THE IMPORTANCE OF HOME-MADE MEALS
“The cook of the family is the doctor of the family”. I heard this quote recently and it has stuck with me. Those who take part in preparing family meals have the power to bring massive health gains for everyone in their families. Eating at home gives us control over the type and the quality of food we eat. On the other hand, relying on take out or fast food on a regular basis means eating lower quality oils, lower quality meats, more salt, and more preservatives.
Moreover, mealtime has the power to be a time of connection for families. Children and adults can come together at each step of the process. Children can, and benefit from, being active participants in all aspects of mealtime. Don’t hesitate to involve them in meal planning for the week, by asking them to pull out ingredients from the fridge, or engaging them by washing, cutting and cooking ingredients with you (remember the adult supervision and child safe equipment!). Children will appreciate the meal so much more because they were involved in making it! Prepping and cooking along also gives children a chance to explore food with different senses, to use basic math skills, to improve cultural awareness, to practice this very important life skill of cooking, and to bond with you in a relaxed, happy space. Connection around the table is equally as important. It is a time to check in with one another and experience a togetherness that our busy schedules may otherwise not allow.
As a matter of fact, committing to home-made meals is a an investment. We all have to eat every day. We can either make the time and mental energy investment to cook meals at home or we can make the financial investment to buy prepared meals (which often times come with an added health cost).
TIPS TO SIMPLIFY DINNER TIME
We often arrive at dinner time physically and mentally tired from a day of work. We may still feel wound up from our workday. Our children may be “hangry” and demanding dinner right away. This is when a little planning and a well-stocked kitchen will help us whip up a meal and avoid a run to the drive thru.
Here are some strategies that will help you simplify and win at dinner time! Please note, you don’t have to implement all these strategies. Hopefully one or two of them will resonate with you and make the most sense for your family’s needs.
- Flexible meal planning. Instead of making a detailed, day by day, plan with all the meals for the week, you write down a few types of meals you would like to eat during the week (e.g. bean soup, tacos, stir fry). Then batch cook some of the meal components ahead of time. For example, you can cook a double batch of your favorite grain, 2 trays of roasted vegetables, and one or two dressings. You can also marinade your protein of choice in advance so it is ready to go! When dinner time comes around you already have the main pieces of your meals prepped so you just need to combine them together with some added condiments. For example, if you made chicken and roasted veggies ahead of time you can use them to build a burrito or a Mediterranean bowl by adding the rest of the condiments you need.
- Use your freezer to your advantage. Double or triple recipes when you make them and then store half of the food in the freezer for later. When rushed for time, it doesn’t get much easier than pulling out a home-made ready to go meal from your own freezer! At our home we freeze enchiladas, bean stews, burger patties, soups, and extra pasta sauce.
- Tried and true recipes. Write down 3 easy to make dinners that you and your family enjoy. Put this list on your fridge’s door (as a visual reminder) and include the ingredients in your grocery list every week. This way you always have these recipes at the top of your head when you find yourself in a pinch for time!
- Pantry to plate recipes. A well-stocked pantry is a life saver! Foods such as pasta, canned beans, tomato sauce, canned salmon/tuna/sardines, quinoa, canned corn or green beans, coconut milk, salsa, etc. can be combined into speedy dinners.
- One pan meals. These meals require minimal prepping (mostly chopping and making a dressing/marinade) and little cleaning! The double win we all need at the end of a busy day.
- Rotation menu. If you like more structure around dinner time but sometimes struggle to come up with ideas, using a rotation menu may be helpful. With a rotation menu you assign a “type of meal” to each day of the week. For example: Mondays are for one pan dinner, Tuesdays are for taco Tuesday (of course!), Wednesdays are for soup and salad, etc. With this framework you just need to choose what type of tacos, what type of soup… and eventually you will have 4-5 go-to recipes under each category. This way your meal planning becomes simpler! If this strategy sounds helpful for you and your family you can grab a sample dinner (and breakfast) rotation menu here.
FOR FAMILIES WITH LITTLE ONES
- Try “deconstructed meals” where children can see the different foods that go into the dish. Soups or stews may be challenging if the child wants to separate a food they don’t yet enjoy. For example, prepare a meal that includes a grain, a protein, and several vegetables. They can see all the foods and decide how much they want to serve themselves.
- Try customizable meals like pizza (see easy home-made recipe in this week’s recipe book), tacos or wraps, stuffed sweet potato, or rice bowl. Four or five toppings can be offered and each family member can create their favorite combinations!
KID FRIENDLY RECIPES TO TRY OUT THIS WEEK!
- Green smoothie muffins
- Loaded sweet potato fries
- Herbed chicken tenders with honey Dijon
- Spinach, tomato, and goat cheese pizza
- Frozen yogurt covered blueberries
NUTRITION FUN FOR THE KIDDOS
- Let’s get the kids involved in meal planning and cooking this week! You can have them choose one or two of the recipes listed above. Then engage them so they can be a part of cleaning, chopping, and cooking that meal alongside you.
- It is farmer’s market season! Let’s try and unscramble the hidden words in this activity and then do a farmer’s market word search puzzle.
- In a previous activity, we looked at the parts of a plant. Now let’s learn about what parts of a plant we can eat!