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Fast, Healthy Meals for Busy Families

Pressed for time? You can still put tasty food on the table.

By Beth Hawkins, Contributing Writer

It can be a challenge to get a healthy, crowd-pleasing dinner on the table on a weeknight. But research shows the daily family meal pays off in many ways. Families who eat together may have stronger ties and children may have higher self-confidence, better vocabulary and score higher on academic tests. Plus, you control what’s on the plate.

A few strategies can make weeknight dinners easier and more enjoyable:

  • Start with a plan. Write down daily meal plans at the start of the week and shop for the ingredients. Pick simple entrees such as oven-baked chicken, a slow-cooker stew or whole-wheat spaghetti with sauce. All you need to do is add a vegetable and/or fruit to have a complete meal.

  • Try to limit foods that are high in fat, while incorporating high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

  • Loading your plate with fruits and vegetables is a good way to help control your weight. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may also reduce the risk of some types of cancer and other chronic diseases. It’s also a good way to ensure your family gets the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients that are important for good health.

  • Pack your pantry with quick-cooking staples such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and no-salt-added beans.

  • Double up by preparing more than you need for one meal. Cook twice as much lean ground beef and freeze the extra servings for another meal. Slice extra chicken, pork or fish for a stir-fry. Chop extra vegetables.

  • Double the recipe for a casserole or stew and freeze the extra to reheat on a night when you are really pressed for time. Freeze leftover soups, sauces, or gravies in small reusable containers.

  • Put everyone to work. Even young children can help with tasks like choosing fruit for dessert, tossing a salad and setting or clearing the table.

  • Teach your young helpers how to prevent foodborne illnesses. Everyone who helps should wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Keep raw meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables separate to prevent cross-contamination. Make sure to wash fruits and vegetables as well as cutting boards and utensils used in food preparation.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to use fruits and vegetables to help manage your weight. Accessed: February 25, 2017. Healthy eating on a budget. Accessed: February 25, 2017.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Delicious family dinners for weeknights. Accessed: February 25, 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food safety. Accessed: February 25, 2017.

Updated February 28, 2017