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Five Fast Hacks for a Healthy Family Dinner

Photo: Courtesy of Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

Amy Kimberlain, RDN, LDN, CDCES

National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

After a long day of work, school, and other must-dos, having the time and energy to cook a healthy dinner can be a challenge. It is possible to get dinner on the table a lot easier with the following time-saving tips:   

1. Plan your menu 

Plan your menu for the week. Planning saves time in the long run because you will know what is for dinner each night. Plan meals that include foods from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and protein foods. Choose ingredients that can be used for more than one dish. 

2. Prep your food 

Carve out some time to prepare the ingredients you will use within a few days. Wash, chop, and portion out select fresh fruits and vegetables you will need for some of your dishes, such as onions, celery, and carrots for soup or stew. Make foods that you can reheat during the week, such as brown rice or meatloaf. Portion out the foods you will use, such as a family-size package of fresh chicken breasts, and freeze the leftovers. 

3.) Keep it safe

When preparing food at home, it’s important to practice good food safety. Foods that require heating need to be cooked to an appropriate internal temperature and refrigerated promptly. To help leftovers cool quickly, portion them into smaller containers.

4. Keep it simple

Save the “complicated” new recipes to try on days when you have more time, and choose the simple, yet flavorful, dishes to make for the weekdays. Chicken, brown rice, vegetables, fruit cups, and a glass of milk can be recurring favorites. Make pasta with a side salad. Focus on dishes that require few steps, and use spices and toppings to make your dish flavorful. For example, add a simple vinaigrette to add zing to your steamed broccoli. 

5. Love your leftovers

Use your leftovers to build other meals. Use the remainder of your roast chicken dinner to make sandwiches or a salad. Be sure to reheat leftovers to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and use or freeze leftover foods within three to four days. 

Double a recipe for a future meal. If you plan to make lasagna, go ahead and make a second one to freeze and enjoy later. Keep a few frozen dishes on hand for those days when you need a quick meal.  

Dinnertime is a great time to catch up with your family and unwind. You will find that you enjoy your meal more when you have the energy to focus on that end goal.  

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