Dinner Hacks for Busy Nights
By Christy Campbell
The school day is over and the race to sports and extracurricular activities is proceeding at a hurried pace. Minivan doors slide open and kids hop in and out with backpacks, dirty cleats, musical instruments and school projects. During the drive home, the familiar chorus echoes in the backseat: “Mom, I’m hungry.” “What’s for dinner?” “I’m starving!”
Panic sets in. Nothing was set out to thaw. There will be a 45 min delay, at a minimum, to get anything prepared. The hungry complaints from the backseat build and then you realize You are really hungry too. Impulse or necessity propels your hands into action. You make a hard right turn into the fast food drive through feeling regret and frustration. You think to yourself, “it’s just for tonight.”
Does this sound familiar? Weeknights can be incredibly busy and stressful with family obligations, and serving a healthy dinner can sometimes feel impossible. Yet, the fast food alternative to a home prepared dinner often exchanges negative health effects for convenience. In an article in News Medical Life Sciences, author Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD reports that fast food is associated with a higher body mass index, less successful weight loss and weight gain. She states: “Fast foods reduce the quality of diet and provide unhealthy choices especially among children and adolescents, raising their risk of obesity.”1
Avoiding fast food and eating at home is proven to be healthier. Research done by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that people who cook at home consume fewer calories, less fat and less sugar than those who eat most of their meals out. 2 But deep down, most parents know eating at home is the better choice. The question is, how to do it?
How do busy parents prepare healthy, convenient family dinners while juggling work and kid schedules? A few simple steps can make all the difference and make your school night dinners healthy and stress free!
4 Dinner Hacks for Busy School Nights
1. Weekend Grocery Shopping
Put this one in your calendar as a non-negotiable. If you want to eat it on a busy Tuesday night, it needs to already be in your house. Build your list and go. All of the strategy and good intentions will not work without having the items to prepare. Talk to your family about prioritizing grocery shopping and designate a protected time.
2. Pressure Cookers
Many popular and affordable pressure cookers can cut meal prep time substantially. Pressure cookers often double as slow cookers and can be set up in the morning for many recipes. Some favorite pressure cooker meals include: shredded chicken tacos, Korean beef, pot roast and turkey chili. Bonus tip! Air Fryers are another great cooking appliance that can save you substantial time.
3. Stock your freezer with 2-3 reheatable finished meals.
A few excellent options that can be made in advance and reheated quickly from the freezer include: mini meatloaves or meatballs, healthy chicken/ pork or steak fried rice, sloppy joe baked sweet potatoes, and your favorite chili or soups.
4. Skip the recipe.
This tip will set you free. Oftentimes it feels as though we need to prepare something with a name on it. When there isn’t a recipe or a plan, it can be paralyzing. There is a simple equation to build almost any meal. Protein + Carb + Vegetables + Fat. Start with the meat or protein, defrost and throw in the oven or pressure cooker. Choose a basic starch like rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes. Pick any vegetable you have available and cook with your healthy fat of choice. Healthy fat examples are avocado oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, ghee, etc. Season all ingredients well. Simplicity is fine! Your meal doesn’t need a name to be a great choice and easy to make! And then if you want to, come up with your own name! Let the kids make suggestions.
Set a goal to eat out for occasions rather than convenience. A few simple steps can make your busy weeknights healthy, low stress and drive-through free!
Christy Campbell is a NCI Certified Nutrition Coach, CrossFit Level 2 Trainer and a USAW Advanced Sports Performance Coach. She is a Navy veteran, Navy spouse and mom of 2 boys. Read about Christy’s personal transformation and nutrition coaching services at www.fitmenutrition.com.