As a mum of 2 crazy boys, cooking a healthy family dinner is nothing short of chaotic, or at least it used to be! For the past five years, I have been happily preparing family dinners with little to no stress, saving time and giving maximum health every single time. So what has changed?
Well, there have been a few reasons for my family dinner success and I know that if you too are currently struggling to provide a healthy family dinner, they will help you as well, not to mention dramatically reduce stress, save on time and keep your sanity intact, lo let’s dice on these dinner hacks!
Let me preface this by saying planning does not come naturally to me, but I do think it’s a necessity when it comes to family dinners, and for many things in life. But while you can get away with not having a plan for every little thing in your life, food is not one of them. If you aren’t prepared, it’s inevitable that you will get hungry and you will want to eat anything close by that you are craving for, and, if you’re unprepared you will quite often end up eating something that’s not that healthy.
I try to make family dinner plans every Monday. This is something I never thought I would do, or at least admit to doing, but it is a lifesaver and saves so much time spent on making decisions, cleaning, shopping and cooking, so it’s a huge win.
I build the plan around a few simple non-negotiables:
1. 1 to 2 red meat days per week
2. 1 to 2 Fish days
3. Vegetables with every meal, generally raw as this saves on time, effort and mess.
With this as a structure to the week’s family meals, I cook on average 3 meals, cooking on only Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday I slow down for the weekend, so not having to cook helps me relax into the end of the week and spend more time with the family.
But, you might ask, if you only cook 3 weeknights, what about the other 2 nights? Well, it’s easy. Thursday is generally leftovers, as I always make large batches of food, and Friday night is pizza night. It is the night to veg out and eat pizza in front of the TV and making the pizza adds to the fun and excitement of Friday night and the way I do it creates a minimal mess and requires only minutes. Grab some Lebanese flatbreads (the Nana brand have a great selection), spread one side with organic tomato paste such as Leggo’s Organic tomato paste, sprinkle with grated cheese, tomato and capsicum slices and cook at 150 degrees for 5 – 7 minutes or until your desired crispiness. These pizzas are super simple to make and because the kids are involved and they feel super accomplished with what they prepared and enjoy it even more.
I cook everything in bulk. Yes, sometimes it does mean we are eating soup for a few days, but it is better than any unhealthy alternative. More often than not I will freeze single servings so they can be used when we are out of fresh food. Bolognaise and Soups are my #1 bulk food to cook for family dinners. They are so versatile as you can serve them up in the same week with different kinds of pasta or bread to add a bit of variety so everyone is not too bored.
Raw food can be incredibly healthy, particularly if it is organic, so this is one of the most important dinner hacks. The vitamin quality and quantity is retained and it can be so tasty. As a family, we have some kind of raw vegetable or salad with every meal. Not only is it super easy, but you can be assured that your family are getting a wide range of nutrients and antioxidants.
Red Capsicum is my absolute favourite. My kids eat them like apples, which I love, and it assures me that they are getting plenty of vitamin C and phytonutrients, especially when lacking in time. The more intense the colour of a fruit or vegetable is the more phytonutrients it contains, which means even there are even more health benefits for you and your family, especially when it comes to preventing disease and sickness, plus the fact that you don’t have to cut up and add vegetables into a hot dish will save time, effort and mess.
A wider range of coloured vegetables is more advantageous, but let’s be honest if we are a working parent we don’t always have time, so if our kids just end up eating the capsicum for a snack or meal then they are still doing ok, and there is no added pressure to the overgrowing mummy guilt! Other super healthy vegetables I love to give the kids raw include celery, carrots, cucumber and oodles of cherry tomatoes.
So between these 3 rules I’ve set out for myself, cooking has become a lot easier and less time-consuming, not to mention more fun. I don’t have to stress every day thinking about what to put on the table at night or worrying that my family dinners will catch me unprepared. With a weekly plan in hand, I can shop for everything in one go and save myself the mental energy that daily planning would require.
You don’t need to overcomplicate it and come up with new recipes for each day. Stick to your family’s favourites and spice things up from time to time when you have the time and energy to do so. In time you’ll build such a rich repertoire that you won’t even need to look up new recipes if you don’t feel like it, you will already have plenty of tried and true ones to choose from.
I would love to know what are your dinner hacks and tricks for saving time on cooking family dinners, and what has worked best for you and your family! I am always curious to know how other people handle their cooking and house chores so please feel free to add a comment!