By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer of the kitchenclassroom4kids.com
For many busy parents, getting dinner together for the family is one of the most stressful parts of the day. Coming home for work and collecting hungry kids from activities, you enter a pressure cooker of people wanting you to feed them—while you have to scour your fridge to come up with something you can make that everyone will eat. It’s no wonder that so many parents have their neighborhood pizza shop number memorized or end up throwing individual meals for the family into the microwave.
But Americans are waking up to the fact that our reliance on processed foods is leading to unwanted effects: a rising obesity epidemic in children, at the top of the list. My suggestion is that parents reclaim the process of making dinner—but do so in an intentional way that avoids the “witching hour” rush and that brings children and teens into the cooking process. With just a little planning, you can turn the chore of making dinner into a bonding time when the family connects and you create nutrient-dense, delicious food.
Pick Your Cooking Night
Most of us don’t have several hours a day to devote to meal preparation. But when you carve out 1-2 hours one night (or morning or afternoon) a week, you can get a lot of cooking done to last you through the week. In my house, Sunday evening when the kids go to bed is when I pour a glass of wine, turn on public radio and enjoy the process of making a big pot of soup that we’ll heat up and heat with dinner for the next few nights (easy soup recipes at my web site www.kitchenclassroom4kids.com). I also make a pot of quinoa and vegetables that we will eat as sides—quinoa is a gluten-free grain that is super high in protein so you can serve it with some veggies (frozen, steamed, drizzled with olive oil & sea salt in 10 minutes) for a great meatless meal. Depending on my time, I may also put together a lasagna (I never boil the noodles) or other casserole to eat during the week.
Get Your Teen Involved
I teach cooking to teens and am always shocked when 14 and 15-year-olds come into my classroom and don’t know how to cut up a cucumber or peel an apple. What? We’re collectively raising a generation who are mystified about the process of creating food. Take some time out to change that trend for your teen (if you haven’t already). On a Saturday afternoon, show them how to wash and chop veggies so that your teen can help you as your prep cook. You’ll have crudité to munch on, veggies ready to toss in a soup or salad. In my cookbook “The Kitchen Classroom,” I have easy recipes with visual instructions for fruit salads, meatballs, peanut noodles and other dishes that teens (and younger children) can follow on their own. Give yourself a break and pick one night a month that your teens makes dinner. In many families whom I work with, this ritual moves from once a month to once a week because the teens gets so into the cooking process!
Our weeks sometimes go by in a blur of tasks and meetings. For many families, it works best to create a simple template that parents can follow so that they don’t have to give extra energy to thinking about what to get on the table. Here’s one that works in my house:
- Meatless Monday—quinoa & veggies, veggie stir fry with tofu, veg lasagna
- Pasta Night—quick to cook and you can try different (healthy) sauces like marinara or pesto
- Soup and Sandwiches—make the soup you made on Sunday the feature of tonight’s meal
- Breakfast for Dinner—kids love it! Omlettes, turkey bacaon, pancakes—serve a green salad or steamed veggies on the side
- Burger Night—lean mean (alternate beef and turkey) and we skip the buns, but add plenty of veggies to go along the side.
Once you get into your cooking groove, you can work out the best plan for your busy family and soon reap the rewards of healthy eating and family bonding all at once!
Author, Cooking Instructor and Parenting Coach Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer loves to help parents figure out how to make healthy eating work best in their family. To learn more about “The Kitchen Classroom” and Kitchen Classroom consults, visit her at www.kitchenclassroom4kids.com