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Easy Healthy Dinners for Busy School Nights

August 30, 2016 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Easy Healthy Dinners for Busy School Nights

With the school year just around the corner it’s time to get back on track with healthy meals that the whole family can enjoy. If you have kids, you know that picky eating can often be a challenge. Inviting kids into the kitchen to help make their own meals is one way to overcome meal time battles. Here are two tried and true meal ideas, and a handful of meal planning tips to try with your family.

Pizza

Do your kids love pizza night? You can turn this take-out classic into a quick, healthy, and fun family meal. You can even make your own pizza dough the night before and let it chill in the fridge. Otherwise you can use a premade pizza crust, pita bread or English muffin. Set out all your favourite ingredients and then invite everyone to make their own pizza. While you wait for the pizzas to cook you can make a side salad or cut up some fruit for the kids.

Pizza ingredients

  • The base: whole wheat pizza dough, pita or English muffin
  • Sauce: tomato or pesto
  • Vegetables: sliced peppers, tomatoes, chopped kale or spinach, olives, mushrooms, red onions, roasted eggplant, grilled zucchini
  • Fruit: pineapple or fig
  • Meat: diced or shredded cooked chicken, pork or beef (limit processed meats like pepperoni and ham), shrimp
  • Meat alternatives: vegetarian sausage (they differ greatly by brand so try a few different options)
  • Cheese: mozzarella, parmesan, cheddar, colby, provolone or feta (go easy on the cheese as it is usually high in both saturated fat and sodium)

Burrito

The make-your-own-burrito night is a family favourite at my house. You can use a tortilla and make a classic wrap, or skip the wrap and substitute brown rice for a gluten free burrito bowl option. Set out your favourite ingredients on the table and have fun with this hands-on meal.

Burrito ingredients

  • The base: brown rice, whole wheat or corn tortilla wraps
  • Cheese: mild cheddar or Monterey jack
  • Vegetables and fruit: diced peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, corn, avocado, diced mango
  • Herbs: cilantro or basil
  • Meat: cooked lean ground beef, diced or shredded chicken or pork
  • Meat alternative:  refried pinto beans, black beans or firm tofu (diced) fried up with onions, garlic, cumin and oregano
  • Sauce: salsa, guacamole and hot sauce

Happier family meal tips:

  1. Plan ahead. It reduces meal time stress and puts the odds of eating a healthy balanced meal in your favour.
  2. Get your kids involved in making meals with age-appropriate tasks. This will increase their interest in eating the meal and teach them valuable food skills.
  3. Your home isn’t a restaurant, so resist the pressure to become a short order cook for your kids. Instead try to make family meals that include something that each person will likely enjoy. For example, you could include sliced veggies or fruit and a side of whole grain rice or bread with supper. This will give kids something healthy to eat when they don’t want to try the entrée.
  4. “Hunger is the best sauce”. Kids eat better when they are hungry, so don’t offer snacks before meal time. But if your kids are getting “hangry” and supper isn’t ready yet, offer some veggies. Kids are not likely to get too full from nibbling on veggies and you can count them towards their supper.
  5. Shut off the T.V. and put away the mobile devices. Focus on eating and chatting instead. For some ideas check out the “Let’s Talk…” conversation starter cards for toddlers and preschoolers.

Coming together for meals is a great way to strengthen family bonds and model healthy food choices. Have great healthy family meal ideas of your own? Share them in the comments below!


Related blogs

Planning - Get Organized. Plan Ahead. Make a List
Picture of a Balanced Diet
Go with Whole Grains
Master-Pizza

Recommended resources

Half Your Plate
Whole Grains Council
Better Together
Health Canada: Planning meals

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