Make weeknight meals healthy and simple

kitchenHouseholds in which both parents work and kids have school and extracurricular commitments can get a little hectic, particularly on weeknights. Parents who want to prepare nutritious dinners may feel it’s impossible to do so without making elaborate, time-consuming recipes. But there are ways for busy, time-strapped parents to make sure weeknight dinners are both healthy and simple.

• Stock a healthy pantry. When grocery shopping, purchase some healthy nonperishable foods that you can rely on in a pinch. Instead of stocking the freezer with unhealthy yet easily prepared frozen foods that are often loaded with saturated fat, stock your pantry with whole grain pastas. Whole grain pastas are lower in calories and higher in fiber and contain more nutrients than refined white pastas. And
once water is boiled, whole grain pastas can be prepared in roughly 10 minutes.

• Rely on a slow cooker. One of the simplest ways to prepare healthy meals that won’t take much time to prepare each night is to use a slow cooker. Set dinner in the slow cooker in the morning before leaving for work, and by the time you arrive home each night you will have a fully prepared, healthy meal ready to be served.

• Make meal prep a family affair. Families who share the responsibility of making dinner on weeknights may find it easier to prepare healthy meals. Younger children may not be able to join in the preparation of too many dishes, but middle school and high school students can help out by chopping vegetables while their parents work on other parts of the meal. Preparing meals can take as much time, if not more, than cooking meals, so making meal prep a family affair can save a substantial amount of time.

• Cook meals in advance. Families who are hesitant to use slow cookers may benefit by preparing healthy meals over the weekend and then refrigerating or freezing them so they can be cooked on weeknights. If you plan to freeze meals prepared in advance, remember to remove them from the freezer the night before and place them in the refrigerator so they are thawed out when you arrive home from work to place them in the oven.

• Choose simple recipes. Trying new recipes is one of the joys of cooking. But trying new recipes on weeknights can be time-consuming because cooks have yet to grow accustomed to each step in the recipe. When looking for new weeknight recipes, look for meals that can be prepared in five steps or less, leaving the more complicated recipes for weekend meals.

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