We totally understand. By the time you get home from work, after picking up multiple children from many activities and with homework time looming, the last thing on your mind is a fresh meal cooked at home. You want something fast, and the local pizza delivery place doesn’t even ask what you want when your number pops up.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. On this edition of Eat This, Not That, we focus on easy, healthy, home-cooked meals that your family will love.
Instead of: Elaborate meals that take forever
The last thing you want to do when you get home from a long day at work is to execute an elaborately planned, multi-course dinner menu. For some people, this is how they unwind from the stressors of a day job, but for most of us, the thought of cooking a meal for another couple hours (and the dishes that go with such a feast) is exhausting.
Try: Simple crockpot suppers
Repeat after me: the crockpot is your friend. Gone are the days of a hunk of frozen meat slathered in cream-of-something soup and boiled down to an inedible, grey mass. Crockpot meals these days feature fresh, crunchy vegetables and healthy sauces that are ready to serve the moment you walk in the door. Instead of being greeted by a cold house and an empty table, imagine the aroma of a delicious, home-cooked, healthy meal, ready to eat when you get home.
Here are some of our easy favorites:
- Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls (eliminate the chicken for a vegetarian meal)
- Quinoa Corn Chowder (vegetarian)
- Slow Cooker Maple and Dijon Pot Roast
Check out Pinterest for more ideas for delicious crockpot recipes.
Instead of: Cooking something new every day
Part of the issue with cooking every day is that you run out of ideas. Trying to figure out what you are going to eat every night is just one more difficult exercise for your already-fatigued brain. You just can’t imagine trying to come up with something new.
Try: Freezer meals
The best news of the day: you don’t have to pluck a dinner idea out of the air when you have freezer meals. Having these little packets of goodness tucked away in your freezer means you don’t have to think too hard about dinner every night. For many of them, you don’t even have to remember to defrost them.
The way they work is this: you take one day a week (or a month if you are amazingly organized!) and cook double of a few of your family’s favorite dishes. These then go into the freezer, labeled carefully with the date they were prepared, the contents, and how to heat them up. You could also add notes if they need anything additional for serving. Not only does this make your nightly cooking job a snap, but if you label preparation directions carefully, someone else in the family can take over in a pinch (even a child).
Here are some recipes to get you started:
- Six Healthy Crockpot Freezer Meals (these can be re-heated in a crockpot, cutting down evening cooking time).
- 50 Freezer Meals In One Day
- A Month Of Vegetarian Freezer Dinners
When planning freezer meals, shop sales to save money and plan your meals around them. For the best nutrition, vegetables and meat should be organic whenever possible, so wait for a good sale and then stock up.
Instead of: Wandering the aisles of the grocery store
Does this sound familiar? You go to the grocery store for the weekly shopping, but once you get there you have no idea what you should buy for dinners. How are you supposed to know what you are going to feel like eating an entire week in advance? So you go up and down each aisle, grabbing what seems like a good idea at the time. By the end of the week, much of what you have grabbed goes unused or ends up in the trash.
Try: Meal planning
Meal planning is nothing more complicated than coming up with a list of dinners for the week. There is no special skill or trick to this. Sit down with your family and brainstorm a list of things everyone likes to eat then shop for those dinner ingredients. This will focus your time in the grocery store, save you money, and make dinner time much easier. You won’t have to expend any brain power when someone screams in to the kitchen, “What’s for dinner?!” Combine meal planning with one of the other techniques for even more benefit. If you double up on some meals (i.e., make two pans of lasagna instead of one), you can put the extra in the freezer for a last-minute dinner.
For those of you who need a technological enticement to try something new, check out the various meal planning apps and websites that are available.
Instead of: Lonely nights in the kitchen
Especially if your kitchen is located in the back of the house, far away from the family activity, cooking can be a lonely chore at night. While everyone is chatting about their day, doing homework, or just playing on their respective devices, you are all by yourself, making dinner.
Try: Family nights in the kitchen
Switch it up by including the whole family in the cooking. If you worked on a meal plan with your family, have the person who picked the meal join you in the kitchen to cook. This can be immensely rewarding. Parents with multiple children will get one-on-one time with each child, and partners will have solo time together, away from the kids. Teaching kids to cook also sets up healthy habits for a lifetime. Share the cooking duties by divvying up table setting and clean-up duties as well.
Cooking at home does not have to be stressful or exhausting. By implementing some simple ideas, you can make family meals at home a beautiful part of your day.
What is your favorite way to cook at home?
Image by Kathleen Franklin via Flickr