Quick and Easy Healthy Meals for Your Kids at Dinnertime
With the amazingly busy days that most parents face day in and day out, waking up the kids, feeding them breakfast, making them lunch, getting them to school, getting to work, picking the kids up from school, making dinner, getting them to bed, it’s a wonder we feed ourselves every day.
Pasta, salad, and chicken nuggets may be great for their school lunch, but it’s not going to cut it for hungry parents working hard all day long. After a few nights of small insufficient meals crammed into homework, bath time and bed time, even the most health conscience parent is driven to stopping by for a hamburger and fries on the way to work at 8:00 in the morning. I’ve been there!
There’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to provide your kids AND yourselves with substantial, healthy meals that not only you’ll love, but so will your kids. In this article, I want to show you just how easy it is to do just this, even with your busy schedules.
Create a Menu
One of the first mistakes many busy parents make is to try and think up meals on the spot. You’ve just come home from work and picking up the kids at daycare. They are running around your feet or are busy trying to get your attention after being away from you all day. It’s 6:00pm and you’re standing in front of the fridge trying to figure out what to make everyone for dinner.
All you can think is that everything you’re coming up with is going to take too much time or be too hard to make. The solution: making a simple menu each week. And what’s great is that you don’t have to have something every single night, to give some room for leftovers, and you don’t have to follow your menu exactly. This is mainly a guide to make sure you have something prepared for dinner each night, even if it’s leftovers, and give you room for some creativity.
So you’re supposed to have ham and cheese pizza tonight, but you’d rather use the fruit and veggies that you have in the fridge and save the ham for tomorrow night’s grilled cheese. Maybe you decide to chunk the grilled cheese idea and instead make ham and cheese macaroni. That’s perfectly fine, and you still have all the ingredients you need to make great meals for everyone. That’s the point.
Making a menu ahead of time just ensures that you aren’t caught in a bind and don’t have anything to make on any given night. There’s always a meal available, even if it’s not the one you originally planned.
Make Ahead Preparation
The next step is preparing most of this ahead of time so you aren’t rushing at meal time, and end up giving up for something easier. Whole wheat pasta noodles, whole wheat pizza doughs, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, hamburgers, sauces, gravies, fillings, etc. can all be made ahead of time when you have a spare moment. Weekends are great for this.
Just set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour to prepare your meals for the whole week on a Saturday or Sunday. When you have kids running around screaming and asking you questions at dinner time on Wednesday night, you’ll be so thankful you did this for yourself.
For bigger meals that take more time, you can simply cook them the night before to be ready for the next day, like full chicken breasts for the adults, steaks, and full casseroles. These you can just pop into the oven while you are going about your regular nightly routine, and when the timer goes off, they can cool on the counter.
There’s no pressure for it to be ready at a certain time, because it’s for tomorrow night. Just remember to pop it into the refrigerator before you go to bed to be ready for dinner that next night.
Healthy Meal Ideas
Let’s look at some of the great dishes you could be making for your family that really won’t take much time and effort at all on your part, but will be healthy and satisfying for all of the members of your household.
Prep time: 2 min Cook time: 15 min Ready in: 17 min Yields: Each of these recipes should feed a family of 4.
Whole Wheat Pizza
It may not sound appetizing, but you’ll just have to give a try at least once to see how amazing it really is. Wheat has a slightly different color and texture than white bread, and that’s the first thing your family will notice.
But wheat bread has a much better taste, and it will hold up much better than will your white bread. As a bonus, you and every other member of your family will be getting some incredible vitamins and nutrients that they sorely need, while eating a pizza!
- 1 Tbl olive oil
- 1 Tbl minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 pounds diced fresh tomatoes (8 beefsteak tomatoes, 16 plum tomatoes, or 60 cherry tomatoes)
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 pkg active dry yeast
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 Tbl olive oil
- 1 Tbl honey
- 1 Tbl gluten (optional)
I would personally make the dough and sauce ahead of time and refrigerate them until needed. To prepare pizza dough, stir in whole wheat flour, yeast and salt. Then blend in water, oil and honey. Stir by hand vigorously until all ingredients are well mixed; about 3 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until dinner time. If you choose to add in gluten (bought at a health food grocery store), it will make the crust thicker and chewier, but it’s not necessary.
To make your pizza sauce, warm your olive oil on low heat in a sauce pan. Add the garlic and oregano, and cook for about 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium and add your diced tomatoes, sugar, and a pinch of salt to taste. Leave over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until boiling. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for and an hour. If you choose, blend with an immersion blender. Let cool and refrigerate until needed.
When it’s pizza night, preheat your oven to 425°F. Roll out your pizza dough and prepare your toppings. Of course you’ll need shredded cheese but all of the other toppings are your choice. Don’t feel restrained by traditional pizzas.
Feel free to use broccoli, asparagus, onions, chicken, fish, hamburger, mushrooms, and whatever else you can think of that you have in the fridge. Use those veggies that have been sitting in there for a month, and don’t feel like you have to go out and buy a bunch of fancy toppings.
Pop your pizza dough into the oven for 3-6 minutes before covering it with toppings. This is ensure that you have a crispier crust that won’t be soggy in the middle after cooking. Cover it with your homemade pizza sauce, shredded cheese, and tons of amazing toppings. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, and you’re done!
This is another great place to use whole wheat and add a little bit more umph to your family meals. You can even mix and match and make this meal original and unique for each of your family members without any extra work at all. Let me show you how.
- 2 cups flour, (white or wheat)
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 Tbl olive oil
- Make your tortillas ahead of time. I should warn you that these are so incredibly easy to make, it’s addictive. To make your tortillas, mix your flour and salt in a large bowl and carefully stir in your water and oil. You’ll want to dump your dough out onto a floured surface and knead it about 10-12 times, adding a little flour or water if needed to achieve a smooth dough.
- Let it rest for about 10 minutes before dividing dough into eight separate portions. Each portion will need to be rolled into a thin circle and cooked over medium heat for about 1 minute on each side in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray. Wrap them in saran wrap until quesadilla night.
- When it’s time for dinner, bust out the shredded cheese, meat and veggies and go for it! One tortilla in the skillet, then shredded cheese to cover the tortilla to the edges, whatever toppings you choose to use, more shredded cheese and then the final tortilla. You’ll want to cook each quesadilla for at least a minute or 2 on each side just to melt the cheese and seal the quesadilla.
- Cut each one into four pieces for each family member and serve will various dipping sauces. Ranch, salsa, bbq sauce, and honey mustard are perfect options! Once again, use this opportunity to include great fruits and veggies in your family meal. Mangoes, chopped cabbage, shredded carrots, apples, and other various ingredients are delicious in this dish. Be creative and your family will appreciate it!
Chicken and/or Fish Sticks
What an easy meal that can be adjusted for kids and adults. Marinate full chicken breasts and fish fillets ahead of time for the adults in the household, and then cut up others into small bites for small hands. There’s no need for breading or seasoning the small ones until it’s time to cook them, but you can get these set up for a couple of nights of meals during the week in mere minutes. If you’d like to, prepare a breading that you can set aside in a sandwich bag for later.
Chicken is one of the easiest meals to create. For adults, you can smother it in salad dressing (Yum!), bbq sauce, marinara sauce, cheese, butter, season-all, or any type of breading. For kids, wet the individual pieces with water, and then coat with parmesan and bread crumbs (just a piece of wheat bread processed in the food processor).
You knew I would sneak wheat in there somehow, didn’t you? Cook at 400°F for 45 minutes and everyone is happy. Serve with steamed vegetables and salad.
Fish fillets can be seasoned for adults in a variety of ways; lemon pepper, beer battered, pecan crusted, or just herbs. Fish stick can be prepared with a roll in flour, then egg, then parmesan and bread crumbs. Cook them all at 450°F for 15-20 minutes and you’ve got dinner for the whole family. Serve with rice and steamed veggies and you’ve got a healthy meal!
Grilled Cheese Sandwich
The grilled cheese sandwich is making a name for itself in all of the creative ways people are using bread and cheese to make an amazing hot sandwich nowadays. Grilled cheese doesn’t just have to be American cheese between two slices of bread in a sauté pan anymore. It can be whatever you want it to be.
Toss in some ham, some turkey and onions, mushrooms and asparagus, spinach pesto sauce, or whatever suits your fancy and sounds good, and you’ve got a unique grilled cheese that you kids (and your spouse) will ask for over and over again. It doesn’t even have to be the same thing every time. Toss tomatoes and mushrooms on it tonight, and then roast beef and onions on it tomorrow night.
You don’t even have to stick with American cheese. Try out Swiss, cheddar, feta, Gouda, or any of the other various cheeses available. You might discover something amazing no one else has ever tried. Serve it with all different kinds of soups and salads for a whole meal your family will love. Here’s a recipe for spinach pesto to get you started.
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
Drop everything in the food processor and process it down to a fine paste. If you keep it in an airtight container, and cover it with a thin layer of olive oil, it will keep for weeks and won’t discolor. Use it in salads, on sandwiches, in pastas, and even on your pizza for a great addition and wonderful taste. For grilled cheese sandwiches, just spread some on top of the cheese before adding the last layer of bread in your sauté pan.
You Can Do It
Dinner doesn’t have to be boring, expensive, take out, or insufficient health or energy-wise for you and your family.
You can provide incredible meals that your family will be proud of, and that you will enjoy. Start simple and make one or two of these meals to get used to the process.
The more practice you get and you’ll be making casseroles, hamburgers, and more complicated dishes for your family in short periods of time, quickly and easily. You’ll wonder why you ever ordered fast food or served them a premixed salad that left all of you wishing for more.
I hope you enjoy these great meal ideas! I know my family has!
© 2018 Victoria Van Ness