5 Steps to Streamline Dinnertime


Does the question, “What’s for dinner?” send shivers up your spine? In an ideal world, dinnertime is that magical, wonderful moment when your entire family gathers around the table for a delicious, healthy, wholesome, home-cooked meal and everyone shares sweet nuggets about their day. In addition, everyone is on his or her best behavior, there is no crying or spilled milk, everybody loves all of the food and not a single complaint is uttered. How often does that happen at your house? Instead, dinnertime can be the most frustrating time of the day because everyone is hungry, cranky and tired. Did you know the average family purchases restaurant food about five times a week, combining both dining in and take out. If you want to improve your family’s nutritional health, eating out fewer times and eating home-cooked meals more often is a huge step in the right direction.

However, preparing home-cooked meals can be a daunting task that makes running a tough obstacle course sound easier. As a mom of four grown children, I distinctly remember the scramble that would occur at dinnertime. However, I did implement a few steps that did streamline dinnertime most of the time. I promise you that if you follow them, dinnertime will not be picture perfect, but disasters can be averted and there truly is a peace in knowing the answer to the question, “What’s for dinner?”

Dinner is a great time to teach your kids about nutrition but not by having discussions at the dinner table about vitamins and minerals but by providing nutritious foods for them. You are actually setting the stage for their eating habits when they enter life as adults. In addition, you are teaching them how to cook. I learned how to make mashed potatoes because countless times I saw my parents peeling potatoes, boiling them in water and then mashing them, and yes, mashed potatoes can fit into a healthy wholesome diet. Healthy nutritional habits are paramount to optimizing wellness, and what a great asset to give our children.

The five steps to streamline dinnertime are planning, purchasing, preparing, picking and punting. In future blogs, I will go into more detail on each of the steps, but here is a quick overview:

  1. Planning dinnertime meals for your family will work best for your family if you do the planning. For example, you can look at recipe books, magazines and websites for ideas, but if you plan the meals, you can take into account your family’s favorite foods and favorite meals. Afterall, you are the expert on your family.
  2. Once you have planned the dinners, you are now ready to make a more specific shopping list before you go to the grocery store. Roaming around the grocery store and randomly putting food in your cart in hopes that you can throw some dinners together will work some of the time, but not all of the time. Preparing dinners is 10 times easier to execute when you know in advance what you are going to prepare.
  3. When you have planned and purchased your meal ideas, you are now ready to prepare the meal. You will no longer find yourself trying to create a meal on the spot, only to find you are lacking that one key ingredient, and now you have to either switch gears and brainstorm a plan B, or just scrap that meal idea and end up ordering a pizza!
  4. Now you can pick your sides to go with the main theme of your dinner. It is ideal to have a variety of sides on hand, such as frozen broccoli, frozen spinach, fresh green beans, salad fixings, and a variety of fruit, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice and quinoa. Instead of assigning which sides to eat each and every night, you can just choose from what you have on hand.
  5. Lastly, punting involves having emergency dinner items on hand that are more nutritious than chicken nuggets and French fries. Examples of emergency dinners might include grilled cheese and vegetable soup with sliced oranges or frozen vegetarian pizza and salad with a bowl of berries.

Perfect eating is hard to define and even harder to implement, so perfect meal planning and preparation is not the target here. The goal is to simplify dinnertime and make it healthier so as to avoid having to eat out. Take heart in knowing that these strategies are super easy, and dinnertime can actually become a wonderful, magical time even though you may still have a few tears to wipe and spilled milk to clean.

Tracy Owens, owner of Triangle Nutrition Therapy, is a board-certified sports dietician and clinical dietician. She is the UNC-Greensboro sports dietician and also works with the athletes of Triangle Volleyball Club. She has 29-plus years of experience and develops customized nutrition solutions that are simple and easy to follow. Learn more about Tracy at http://trianglediet.com.

Categories: Fit Family