At the end of a long day of work, caring for kids and keeping up with life, the idea of getting a hot, home-cooked dinner on the table and eating it together can be a real challenge. There are plenty of statistics around the decline of the family dinner, and as a result, we see many new services or products designed to help us bring it back. Talk to most parents and you’ll hear the unending tension between what they want to do (fresh, homemade, healthy dinners!) and what they often feel capable of (pizza!).
But cooking meals at home is, in fact, a big deal when it comes to eating healthfully. Food prepared by grocery stores, restaurants and fast-food establishments is less nutritious, higher in unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates and sodium, and usually doesn’t contain organic produce or high-quality meats. What’s more, the majority of children’s meals served at restaurants don’t meet nutrition recommendations.
Cooking is a beneficial skill, and one that’s important to teach your children so they’re able to carry it with them into adulthood and practice healthy habits. Further, eating together can help strengthen relationships and deepen bonds among family members. The benefits of cooking and eating together are endless, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Here are a few secrets for making cooking easy and fun.
- Make Recipes Multitask: Plan to use one recipe or cooking session for multiple meals. Double the batch and freeze one or use it for lunches, or cook a double batch of protein and veggies and pair it with different sauces or starches to create fresh meals. This allows for home-cooked food without having to start from scratch every night.
- Hack Your Veggie Prep: Having fresh vegetables in your dinner is a perfect way to pack kids full of healthy vitamins, fiber and other essentials but prepping veggies can be time-consuming. Batch the work by chopping and storing veggies in advance, so it’s not another task to take on at night. You can also wash and scrub vegetables with edible skins instead of peeling them, and buy pre-chopped veggies when you’re in a bind.
- Clean as You Go: There’s nothing more discouraging than finishing dinner and turning around to a sink full of dishes and a cluttered counter. Make a concerted effort to clean as you go. Rinse dishes and load them in the dishwasher when you’re finished with them, tidy up while things bake in the oven or saute on the stove.
- Use a Slow Cooker: Slow cookers are about as close as you can get to a magician making food while you’re at work. The internet abounds with delicious and healthy slow cooker recipes that often simply require you to load ingredients up, set it and forget it.
- Make Sheet Pan Meals: Roasting proteins and veggies together on one sheet pan not only creates a tasty medley, it also cuts way down on cleanup.
- Speed Up with a Pressure Cooker: When you need to quickly cook rice, beans or even meats, consider a pressure cooker. It will help you get dinner on the table quickly–essential after a long day with lots of hungry family members!
- Get the Kids Involved: From 2 years old on, kids can help to make dinner, which serves so many purposes. First of all, it distracts them from asking when dinner is ready because they’re a part of the process. They’ll also learn cooking skills and understand where their food comes from. Kids who prepare new ingredients are also more likely to try them. Kids can start with washing and drying produce and using simple kitchen tools like whisks and salad spinners. As they grow, they can crack eggs, roll dough, help chop food, set the table, wash dishes and eventually prepare simple meals by a recipe.
For more advice on cooking and eating at home and other nutritional changes you can make for a healthier, happier family, check out 52 Small Changes for the Family, available now.