For many parents, figuring out what’s for dinner can be tiring night after night, especially when you only have 15 minutes to get something on the table before your toddler throws a tantrum or you have to pick up your child from sports practice. Choosing something that is healthy can add another seemingly impossible layer to the equation for families on a time crunch.
One important step to beating the dinnertime buzzer is having a plan. Simply writing down what you have on hand or need to use up and making a plan from there will help give you a mealtime game plan. It’ll help cut down your grocery bill, too! Making a list of ingredients that can be used in more than one recipe can cut down on food waste, ensuring every dollar spent on groceries is put to good use.
Once you have a plan, meal prepping can be a great timesaving tool. Try setting aside some of your time on the weekends to prep individual ingredients. Marinating proteins such as chicken, beef, or tofu can help develop flavor and help cut down on cooking time during the week. Vegetables can be washed, chopped and prepped for cooking. A starch such as rice or pasta can be thrown in the microwave or cooked on the stove while you roast or steam your protein and vegetable side.
On nights that the timing seems impossible and you don’t have anything planned, frozen veggies and a rotisserie chicken can be a quick, cheap option for your family. Throw the veggies in the microwave to steam or roast them in the oven. If you’re too pressed for time, consider grabbing a salad kit from the produce section to toss a quick salad together. You can pick up a loaf of bread while you grab the chicken or make some rice or another quick carbohydrate source to go with the chicken and veggies.
Quick tip: For crispy frozen veggies, dump frozen veggies on a baking sheet and bake once without any oil or seasonings at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes to evaporate some of the water. Then coat (carefully) with oil and spices and roast again for another 10 minutes or until crispy. If you have an air fryer, do the same!
For healthy grab and go snacks for your family, consider pre-packaged snacks with protein to help keep them full in between meals. There are many “protein packs” on the market right now – many can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Some come with cheese, nuts, hummus or other protein-filled options. Other pre-packaged foods like yogurts, guacamole pouches or mini charcuterie trays are great options as well. It can be a fun way for kids to choose what their snacks are for the week ahead.
If you have some time on the weekends, you can even make your own charcuterie box or DIY “lunchable”! Pack some of your favorite healthy snacks into small food storage boxes for an easy homemade grab and go snack or effortless lunch for the kids. Prepping a variety of healthy foods and having your kids pack their own “lunchable” will help them be a part of the process and expose them to new foods. Some items to include are crackers, cheese sticks, grapes, mini tangerines, pretzels and hummus, edamame, or nuts if there are no allergies.
Mealtime can be a struggle for busy families, but the good news is, being short on time doesn’t have to mean being short on options. A little time spent meal prepping and planning can go a long way during the busy workweek to help you get a healthy and tasty dinner on the table in record time.
About the Author
Dr. Bhavishya Devireddy is a member of Valley Children's Pediatric Residency Program Class of 2024. As a diabetes empowerment and education program instructor, she is passionate about advocating for and educating patients who are struggling with their diabetes care.