I’m always super busy, and I’m sure most of you are too. So, how can we all manage to still have time to make a healthy family dinner rather than stop at a local fast food restaurant and pick up something unhealthy to eat? The key is prep! I’m going to give you 10 best ways to prep for a healthy family dinner.
*This post includes some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
1. Cook enough for more than just one night. I only cook every other night, because I make enough dinner so that it lasts us 2 nights. (The exceptions are the Saturdays once a month when my parents come over for dinner and every Sunday we have fish for just one night because that’s all I can stand!) Some other people don’t like to have the exact same meal more than one night, so they’ll use the meat they used in one meal, to make a different meal the next night. It still saves time because you only have to cook the meat once. Also, some people like to make 2 casseroles, or lots of soup, spaghetti sauce, or meat(like roast beef, chicken, or turkey) and freeze the extra to have for other meals at a future time. When you’re ready to use the frozen meal/meat again, you just have to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat it the next night.
2. Advance prep on the weekend. On Sundays, while watching the NASCAR race with my older son, I usually make enough muffins, breakfast items, and sometimes dessert for the whole week. That way, I just have to pull out the muffins the night before, or reheat the other breakfast items that morning, rather than worrying about cooking breakfast at 4:45 in the morning! People have commented on my other posts and I’ve read about others who cut up enough vegetables to have available for the week for snacks and for their dinner. You can make enough brown rice for the week to use as a side dish one night, with a stir-fry meal another night, or even freeze individual portions in plastic freezer bags. If you’re preparing a salad, you can rinse and store extra salad greens in a plastic container with a lid, like a produce keeper, and they’ll stay fresh and crisp for a week.
3. Organize your kitchen. I know exactly where everything is in my kitchen, so when it’s time to cook dinner, I know exactly where to go, rather than search all around for what I need. The kids know where things are too, so they can help give me things. The pots and pans are in cupboards near the stove/oven, the utensils are in a nice utensil holder on the counter next to the stove. The ceramic casserole pans (I don’t use glass any more after having one explode all over the kitchen) are in the island cupboard, which is where I prep. I even have the food all in one cupboard in organized bins so it’s easy to pull out what I need from the “dinner” bin.
4. Keep your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer stocked. Rather than having to run to the store every night on your way home from work or your kid’s soccer practice, to pick up meat to cook for dinner, make sure you already have lean ground beef, fish fillets, chicken breasts, and ground turkey on hand. I wrote a post about shopping at wholesale clubs, so that will help you with this tip. Also, keep frozen vegetables and no-salt added canned vegetables around as a quick fix.
5. Always have a shopping list handy. I have 2 shopping lists on my refrigerator – one for the grocery store and one for Costco. That way, as soon as I run out of something, it’s really easy to quickly add it to my list. This saves me from having to run to the store for something before cooking dinner. Side note: The kids know it’s there also, so if they run out of something they like to eat or a personal care item, they just write it on the list.
6. Look over the recipe and prep before you cook. I just recently discovered this tip and I sure wish I knew it sooner! It would’ve kept dinners from being late, most of the time. After I get home from subbing and change and have a snack(or after picking my son up from school if I’m not working), I’ll take the time to look over the recipe. That will give me an idea of when I need to start prepping for dinner. When that time comes, I’ll look over the recipe again, and take out everything that I need, like measuring cups and spoons, the cutting board, and ingredients. This ensures I have everything I need before I start cooking. I also like to prep the vegetables and get them cut up and ready to go. That way when it comes time to cook, I just have to add everything to the dish, rather than take the extra time to search for it and prepare it. It makes the cooking time much faster and easier.
7. If one of your meal items is complex, make sure the rest are easy to make. If you’re making a main dish that has lots of steps and will take awhile to make, then make sure your side dish is really easy. Maybe just make a simple salad or frozen/canned vegetables to go with it. However, if your main dish is simple to make, maybe make a more complex salad or other side dish to go with it. Don’t make everything in the meal complex(unless it’s a special occasion) because that will take too long to make.
8. Use your microwave or stovetop. I use my microwave every other night for reheating our leftovers. We each just scoop out what we want on our plate and I heat up one plate at a time. It only takes about 10 minutes to heat them all, which is good timing. I heat my youngest son’s food up first so that way it’s not too hot by the time we all eat. Also, if the meal I’m cooking is using up all of the stovetop, I use the microwave to cook my vegetables. I talk more about cooking with a microwave in my Cooking Techniques for a Healthy Heart post. You can also use your stovetop to cook quicker versions of dishes you normally cook in the oven.
9. Use other labor-saving items. A few years ago, my husband bought me a food processor and it is one of my favorite, most used items in the kitchen. I use it to quickly chop or slice vegetables and potatoes. I also use it to make homemade breadcrumbs, just by toasting whole wheat bread and then putting it in the food processor. You can also use a convection oven, pressure cooker, or the new thing I’ve heard about a lot, an instant pot. I don’t have any of those, so my favorite cooker to use is my slow cooker.
10. Cook everything in one dish. I really like cooking things in one dish, because besides making it easier and faster to cook, clean up is much easier too! I don’t like doing dishes, so if I can have less to wash, that’s a bonus. You can even use some dishes for cooking, serving and storing. Corningware is my favorite brand of dishes to use for that purpose. I saw that they even have the blue cornflower design in a limited edition! I also like cooking one pot dishes on my stovetop. I have a nice size deep skillet that I use for that; actually I have 2 so I always have one available.
So, now you have 10 best ways to help you prep for a healthy family dinner. No more excuses for running to the fast food restaurant and picking up food that’s not good for you! Your whole family will appreciate having healthy food and it tastes much better too. You’ll enjoy the time it saves you cooking and the money it saves by not having to run to the store at the last minute.
What is your favorite prepping tip? Also, if you like reading my posts and learn from them, please share them. I would really appreciate it. I would love for more people to learn how to live heart healthy.
By the way, I got all my tips from years of cooking, family members, reading other blogs, and The New American Heart Association Cookbook.