Getting dinner on the table, part 2: Overcoming the obstacles
- Plan your meals ahead of time. Create a shopping list and make the time to go to the grocery store. I'm going to say it again. Make the time. If you don’t know what you want to make and you don’t have the ingredients in the house, it will be much more difficult to make dinner.
- Make your slow cooker your good friend. It’s hard to get a healthy, homemade dinner on the table if you don’t walk in your door until 5:30 at night. But, if you put dinner together the night before in the slow cooker and plug it in before you leave for work the next morning, dinner is waiting for you when you get home.
- Cook double. On a night when you have the time to make a more complicated dish, make two of them. Put one in the freezer, and you’ll have a ready-made meal for a more hectic evening.
- Join or organize a cooking club with three other people. Instead of making double one night or one weekend afternoon, you can make quadruple and trade dishes with others in your cooking club. You can make four of the same dish, keep one and give the other three to three other people in your cooking club who in turn will each give you what she made. You’ll end up with four meals for the week, but you only cooked once.
- Be realistic. A healthy home cooked meal doesn’t have to take hours. Grilled cheese on whole grain bread and an organic tomato soup takes minutes to make but is a satisfying meal.
- Embrace short cuts. Items like jarred minced garlic, bagged salads, and pre-sliced mushrooms are just about as healthy as their uncut counterparts. They are great time savers.
- Offer only one meal. Sometimes to get the children to stop whining, we make them something different than we eat ourselves. Stop doing that. Unless there are dietary concerns, children should eat what the adults are eating. I’m not advocating forcing a child to eat mushrooms or fish if they don’t want it. If I’m making a main dish that my boys aren’t going to like, I make sure they like the sides and let them fill up on the veggies and pasta, potato or grain I’m serving.
- Pasta and sauce almost always work. Always have a jar of pasta sauce and a box of spaghetti in the pantry. If you can swing it, have some meatballs in the freezer, too, if your family eats them. A side of garlic bread can be made out of almost anything — burger buns, hoagie rolls, even English muffins.
- Serve breakfast for dinner. Pancakes or eggs can be dinner.
- Learn substitutions. If a recipe calls for buttermilk, but you don’t have to, do you know you can substitute milk soured with a little lemon juice? Recipetips has a fantastic list of food substitutions that covers everything from spices to dairy items and a lot more.
- Accept that most recipes aren’t ironclad contracts. They are jumping off points. Get creative if you don’t have one of the ingredients or just leave it out and see how it goes.
- Say no. Sure, the PTA meeting is important, but I think at times parents are so involved with groups and committees for organizations for their kids that the kids often get ignored. If you don’t attend some meetings, your community will not fall apart.
- Don’t over schedule your children. Eating together as a family is so important (and Monday I’ll discuss why). If your children’s schedules are so tight that you’re always eating dinner in the car on the way to the next activity, it’s time to re-evaluate.
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you can’t manage to have dinner together every single night, don’t throw the whole idea away. Two or three nights a week are better than nothing. More is better, but take what you can get.
- Breakfast and lunch are meals, too. There’s no rule that says the meal you eat together has to be dinner. If your family’s schedule allows for everyone to be together for other meals, that’s great.
- Unplug during the meal. Make it a rule and stick to it. Parents, too.
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