Now that summer is here, so are the increased activities we all seem to get involved with when we're parents! Trying to fit in a healthy dinner for your family before the kids have to be at soccer, baseball or swimming can be a real dilemma, especially if you're a working parent. Fortunately, there are a few options available to make mealtimes and activities workable, fast and easy. And remember, meals can and should be lighter than we have become accustomed to.
As always, it's advisable to plan ahead for mealtime. Schedule a block of two hours to prepare the following:
- Fresh fruit salad. Make a huge bowl, cover and refrigerate. This can be used for many meals in many ways, such as toaster waffles with fruit (and a little light whipped cream!), with a sandwich, as a snack or with cottage cheese. Once prepared, it will last for quite a few days. Hold sliced bananas until serving time.
- Salad greens. Wash and tear up an entire head of lettuce (romaine has more nutrition than iceberg) and put into a large plastic bag. Plan a meal of salad topped with grilled chicken, use in sandwich wraps, or as a bed for the fruit salad you prepared.
- Meats. If you like hamburgers (whether beef or turkey) make many and freeze. After forming burgers, cover each with waxed paper, put into a zipper freezer bag and take out as needed. The waxed paper makes them easier to separate. Make a few meatballs while you're at it—precook and freeze. Also cook up a pound (or two) of lean ground beef or turkey, freeze and use for tacos. Simply thaw, microwave to heat and you're ready.
- Ham steaks.. Keep a few on hand. They're easy and fast to prepare. They can be broiled while you set the table, cut up to use in a casserole or sliced thinly and used in a julienne salad. Chicken fingers or boneless chicken breast is just as versatile. Cook an extra breast to cut up for chicken salad or chicken and rice. Avoid the breaded fingers if you can—as they take much longer to cook.
- Rice/pastas. Cook a double batch at one time and store the extra batch for later in the week. Make a fast tuna noodle casserole, chicken and rice, or toss the meatballs in, add pasta with a little jarred sauce and top with grated cheese. About 15 minutes of prep time and dinner is on the table!
- Vegetables. Fresh is always best; frozen comes in second. If you know your upcoming week's meals will need celery, onions or chopped peppers, cut them up all at one time and store in containers in the refrigerator. Fresh mushrooms also hold well for a few days. Bags of frozen, chopped onions and peppers can also be a timesaver in a pinch.
A little bit of prep planning will save you hours during the week. Even though the initial outlay may seem expensive, buying fresh and in quantity is actually less expensive and provides much higher nutrient benefits.
Finally, a reminder about all that fresh seasonal produce you'll be buying this summer. Unless the package states it is pre-washed, wash all fruits and vegetables before you eat them, even if they look clean. Produce that clearly states it has been pre-washed is safe to eat as is.
Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.