We all know the family dinner has proven to be one of the most important parts of a kid’s day, providing children with a time to bond and talk with siblings and parents. It has also been shown that grades improve and families eat healthier foods when they’re together at the dinner table. It is easily my favorite part of my day and something that is a non-negotiable in our house.
I love to read about nutrition and do my best to raise healthy eaters. I am gonna pat myself on the back here for a minute (props to my amazingly cool kids, too), as this was a goal of mine and it seems to be working. Confirmation comes each time my girls cheer for Brussels sprouts or ask for more broccoli. You’ve heard the rules: We all eat the same dinner, and that goes for all the ideas below.
When I’m on my A-game and am staying committed to my family goal of cooking as much of our food as possible, I try to use this strategy each week for dinners:
1. Stir-fry night
This can be a mix of vegetables and meat over any grain (quinoa, rice). It is so easy, so fast, and so delicious! I usually keep it as an Asian-inspired meal, with soy sauce, freshly grated ginger, garlic, and a little coconut sugar. You could easily mix in any other spices — think Italian herbs, curry, or even salsa and beans to make it into a burrito bowl!
2. Grain bowl night
Inspired by Tom and Gisele, I have started to make meals like this, and my family is loving it! Start with a grain like rice or farro or quinoa at the bottom of the bowl. In a pinch, I use this from Trader Joe’s and add some sautéed onions, roasted garlic, or some other flavor profile. Then add some roasted veggies (we like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beets, or all of the above), or you could do raw veggies to make it a salad, topped with an avocado or a lean protein like grilled chicken, salmon, or a fried egg. Yum!
3. Soup/chili or grill and salad night
This can be seasonal — soups or stews in the fall and winter, grilled dinners in the spring and summer. Truth be told, our family loves our favorite chili recipe year round, though! Want to try a new chili recipe? Check out President Obama’s favorite here — it appears his and mine are similar, which makes me smile. Chili and soup nights are perfect to let your slow cooker shine, and then throw in a little salad or some peppers and carrots on the side.
4. Pasta night
In our house, and especially with my daughters, it’s all about sprinkling cheese and whatever I can serve as a vehicle for more cheese (see chili above!), so pasta obviously fits the bill here. You can use white pasta, go whole grain, or try an ancient grain — or even make a zoodle! Red sauce, butter, or pesto make it delicious, and we throw in as many veggies as we can here (you can even do this in the meatballs if you are topping your pasta that way).
5, 6, 7. Wild card or repeat nights
The other three nights of the week are either repeat nights or wild card nights. Sometimes it’s a date night, if we’re lucky, and then there is frozen pizza or takeout for the littles. Other times we all venture out to a restaurant. For us, wild card nights in our house are family favorites, like taco Tuesday, breakfast for dinner, chicken picatta (totally grown-up chicken fingers!), or a special recipe I’m excited to try. It helps to have a little list of our favorite dinners to refer to as well — such a fun thing to brainstorm as a family, and this exercise completely empowers everyone to be part of the healthy eating process.
My hints to make it easier in a pinch:
- Roast tomorrow’s vegetables while you’re eating tonight’s dinner.
- Slow cookers are amazing, and using one every day as a way to create a side is a genius approach I am still working on.
- Try a pressure cooker, and you’ll have soup made in five minutes (literally).
- Use a salad bar at the supermarket for a shortcut; I buy roasted garlic at the antipasto bar as my favorite shortcut!
- Cook dinner as early as you can (midday or weekend batch cooking) — you don’t have to start dinner at 5 p.m. and feel like you are on a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge! For example, I try to make a batch of roasted veggies or a pot of quinoa during naptime or playtime on the weekend that I can use a couple days later.
What are your tips or tricks for dinner? Inspired by this post? Use our hashtag so we can see what you make with #bmbdinner!