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Quick Dinner Options

Take the stress out of family mealtime - By Cara Rosenbloom RD

From picky eaters to time-crunched dinner rushes, here are tips to help make mealtime easier for the whole family.

Planning in advance makes mealtime easier

I hear the same sentiment from fellow busy parents when I’m dropping off the kids at school, watching gymnastics practice or checking questions that flow into my blog: what are some tips for making mealtime easier?

In this post, I will address some of the most common questions that I’m asked, and will provide some ideas to make mealtime fun – rather than frenzied – in your home.

Planning in advance makes mealtime easier

How can I stop the stress of getting my child to eat _____?

You can fill in that blank with any food item, but the most common ones I hear are vegetables or red meat. Let’s face it. You don’t enjoy every food on the planet, so why do you expect your children to like them all? It’s okay for them to have preferences, and to not enjoy everything that they try. If you offer a wide range of foods at dinner, and include at least two options that you child likes, they will fill their plate and their tummy. If they don’t eat everything, that’s okay. Make mealtimes pleasant by not discussing what they are doing wrong. Instead, role model the right thing to do by trying a little bit of each food on your own plate. Eventually, your child will learn by example.

Your job is to provide healthy foods for your children to eat. But it’s their job – without pressure from you – to decide what and how much they will eat of the food that’s offered to them. If you follow that simple rule, dinnertime will be much more relaxed and stress-free for everyone at the table. And even when kids are picky, they still tend to get all of the nutrients they need.

My child never finishes everything on his plate. Is that a concern?

Children have small appetites, and many kids tend to fare better if they eat 5-6 small meals and snacks throughout the day rather three large meals. Your child should follow his own hunger cues, which have little to do with how much food is on his plate. You will notice that he will eat seconds or thirds on some days, and other days he’ll barely eat a bite. It’s all normal. Respect his appetite and let him be the guide.

And there’s no need to force children to “clean their plates” – you can put leftovers in the fridge for them to eat when they feel hungry. Making them eat more food when they don’t feel hungry can lead to an upset stomach, and can eventually override their innate cues for fullness. If that happens and they chronically overeat, they could gain excess weight, which is bad for overall health.

How can I be prepared for dinner at 6 pm when I get home at 5:45 pm??

Planning ahead is the key to successful weeknight meals, even when you are short on time. On the weekend, set aside time to plan the dinner menu for the rest of the week, and shop for the ingredients that you will need. When you get home, everything will be at the ready in your fridge and pantry, so all you have to do is cook. If you know that your window is only 15 minutes, choose options that are quick to cook, such as scrambled eggs, toast and tomato; broccoli and chicken strip stir-fry on rice noodles; or pita pizzas. They can all be prepared in 15 minutes.

You can also use time on the weekend to pre-chop vegetables and prepare batches of soup, meatballs, casseroles or tomato sauce that you can re-heat and serve for a quick homemade dinner.

Wishing you joyous family meals!

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