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Chicken, cheese, vegetable casserole

Quick Healthy Meals for Back to School

Do you find that back-to-school new schedules, homework, and after-school activities can cause you to throw up your hands with one more challenge of trying to fit in a healthy meal?  You are not alone.

I often hear this concern from families who struggle with how to get their family a healthy meal in the famed 30 minutes or less.  It can be difficult not to feel stuck resorting to foods that you know are less than ideal.

Working to have family meals is worth the effort.  Research has shown that family meals have long-term social, academic, and health benefits.  Children who regularly have family meals score better on tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese, and have higher intakes of calcium, fiber, iron, and many vitamins.  Teenagers who eat with their families are less likely to use alcohol or drugs, and they are also less likely to smoke or suffer from mental health issues.

Here are some ways to help bring your family back to the table for a healthy meal, even when time and energy are scarce.

Plan

Planning sounds as fun as getting a cold, but you will absolutely love the fact that it works!  It really helps you to get more of the weeks meals on the table without stress, saves you money, and can help improve the health of your family.  In addition, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or be overwhelming.  Take a minute or two on the weekend or another day of the week and map out the meals for the week ahead.

Pizza with lots of garlic

Photo by Cel Lisboa on Unsplash

You might find success in themes, such as having Italian Monday, taco Tuesday, and soup and sandwich Wednesday or coming up with some family favorites that you can rotate.  Letting your kids decide a couple of the meals can help you out and create involvement and buy-in that will make it more likely your kids will eat what is on the table and give them tools for the future.  Maybe eventually they can help plan all the meals!  Using the grocery store flyer and deciding meals based on what is on sale will help you save money.

Cook once, eat twice

The idea is to cook an ingredient once and then use it in two or three different meals.  You can have grilled chicken one night, mini chicken potpies another night, and freeze chicken for soup or chicken salad sandwiches later.  Another idea might be meatballs with spaghetti, meatball subs, and then meatballs in soup or broken on a pizza.

roast chicken on a plate

Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo on Unsplash

Make extra, and freeze  

When you cook foods such as ground beef, chicken, rice, beans dishes, soups, and casseroles, make extra, and freeze.  Then when you are looking for a quick meal later, all you need to do is pull out one of these from the freezer to serve as a base for another meal.

Have a couple meals on hand of shelf-stable foods

For those days towards the end of the week, when you might be looking to eat out because you didn’t have time to prepare the night before, have a couple of meal solutions that you keep stocked right on your pantry shelf.  These might include spaghetti and sauce, a bean and rice dish; or a tuna, vegetable, mac and cheese casserole.

Stock your kitchen

Keep things like pasta, rice, and canned vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, beans, and soups in your cupboard that are often added to recipes and can be used as side-dishes.  These basics can help you complete a meal in minutes.

strawberry and avocado fajitas by casa de crews
Use customizable meals to meet the tastes of the entire family

If you have a family with multiple likes and dislikes, use meal ideas that can be modified to meet multiple taste preferences.  Meal ideas such as tacos, individual pita pizzas, or main-dish salads can be tweaked to keep everyone happy and be quick to set up.

Use short cuts

Bagged salad, steam-in-the-bag frozen vegetables, minute brown rice, and precut vegetables can reduce your preparation time.  Rotisserie chicken, frozen grilled chicken strips or patties, precooked shrimp, and canned beans can also give you a good start to a healthy meal.  Additionally, utilize the slow cooker.  It does the cooking for you and helps you get a remarkable meal on the table with minimal work from you.

Keep it simple

Remember that it doesn’t have to be an amazing meal with fancy ingredients.  Take a look at these healthy, no-cook meals: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy694  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with veggies or cereal and fruit can be good meals.  Some days you might have time for more and other days not, enjoy your family!

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