I know I’m not the only mom out there to struggle with dinner time. What mother has time to slave hours in the kitchen and put a perfectly plated meal on the table just to have young children turn up their noses. “Ew. What is that? Why can’t I have waffles? I want Cheez-its. How many bites do I have to eat?”
Over the past few years, we have (some days) come up with a solution to the angst surrounding dinner. Here are a few ideas to try if you feel defeated once five o’clock hits. With a little planning and preparation meal time can be enjoyable for everyone. We use a couple of hours on the weekend to prepare. Saturday we meal plan and shop, Sunday we prep.
I pull out the family calendar complete with appointments and activities and plan accordingly. I even plan out my breakfasts and lunches, so I’m not distracted at the store and can stick to my list. We are not fancy eaters and dinners typically entail a protein, veggie servings, and a complex carb. With this motto, it’s fairly easy to succeed.
Wash, slice, and chop veggies
Prepare ingredients for Monday, if needed
Hard boil eggs
Prep tip: involve your kids!
Sunday morning I pull out the cutting board and knife, next to my kitchen helpers armed with their child knives (that really cut), to wash, chop, and package our fruits and veggies for the week. They love helping out with the process! My oldest brings a daily snack of fruit to school (clementines, apple slices, grapes, strawberries for example). After school snacks are sliced veggies like carrots, peppers, cucumbers or broccoli. I make a tray with hummus or a healthier dip that lasts through Wednesday and then I remake it mid week. They also have cheese sticks, crackers, hard boiled eggs, or trail mix as options on some days.
We drink water with meals, a small glass of orange juice with breakfast after their water. Staying hydrated through the school day is important and there aren’t enough drinking fountain trips throughout the day. My son occasionally drinks milk at dinner. The girls do not care for the taste.
I also take the time to prepare Sunday’s dinner and the meat for Monday. Sunday we tend to have fish with roasted veggies. It is one evening that we do not have activities, so we enjoy our family time.
Mondays I keep simple with the crock pot. If the recipe involves prep, I do it Sunday, so Monday morning is simply combining the ingredients and turning it on! It provides excellent leftovers for lunch the next day, too.
Tuesday is perfect for some sort of spin on Taco Tuesday. All three kids love being able to put together their own plates at dinner. Browning the taco meat takes very little time and by having the lettuce and tomato slices on Sunday, it is very easy. We also add a bowl of shredded cheese, warm black beans, and brown rice (check out the Seeds of Change microwave bags). Serve with tortilla shells or over spinach!
Wednesday is our family’s busiest day of practices. We keep dinner simple with either finger foods, egg burritos, or the kids’ dream dinner: frozen waffles (we do tend to keep to the ‘healthier’ kind)
Thursday is leftovers
Friday: Make your own pizzas: flatbread, sauce, cheese, and lots of veggies! They LOVE this and it’s great for me since Hubby cleans up.
Saturday we enjoy chili that can cook in the crockpot all day and as the weather is warming up grilling will replace a crockpot soup. Some Saturdays, if feeling lucky, a meal out.
This is just an example week. My motto is to expose our kids to healthy choices and give them some control over their food. We are a moderation household and they do not need to clean their plates. They eat until they are content and know that they will not get a snack before bed (the exception being after a late swim practice). We do not have dessert. They have sweet treats at different times throughout the week so are definitely not deprived, but have never implemented the belief that every meal ends with a bowl of ice cream. It works for us.
To us, it is not worth the fight at dinner. They are eating well throughout the day, getting most of their healthy foods on during the day and after school. I always give them something that they like on their plate. It may not go with the meal, but kids do not care. They are more likely to try a new food when next to something they enjoy. Yogurt, cottage cheese, a homemade smoothie, favorite fruit or veggie are a few ideas. Sometimes a ‘dip’ is helpful for kids to try new foods: honey with chicken or broccoli, a yogurt-based dip for other meats or salads and veggies.
I hope you’ve found some helpful tips for providing your family with healthy meals despite our busy lives. Know you are not alone in the dinner time struggle. Please share one of your tried and true meals that is sure to please in the comments section!