When the school year starts, putting together healthy family meals can feel like just another part of the daily grind. Even so, there’s a lot to be gained by making meals at home a priority! There are many benefits to preparing homemade food and connecting over meals.
Well-balanced nutrition means you’ll have the energy to handle all your other commitments and your kids will stay energized and focused for school hours and extracurriculars. Healthy homemade meals can also keep off extra pounds that build up when relying a lot on high-calorie fast food.
Getting in quality time
When you prepare and eat meals with kids, it’s a great time to share tips and ideas about food and also to bond. If your family has to eat in different rounds, leave a marker and dry-erase board by the fridge with a Question of the Day like, “What made you feel happy today?” Bring up the answers the next time you are together. This can help family members feel connected even if eating with each other isn’t always possible.
Eating at home saves money, which is especially useful when start-of-school costs start to add up! Use ads/flyers to look for best buys for produce, lean proteins and healthy staples to keep on hand for quick meals.
Meals made easy
What are ways to put together great meals that are healthy, affordable and delicious? You can choose your own adventure! Pick from the following categories to put together options that work for your family – try to find ones that have minimal added sugar and fat to keep the calories in check.
Choose one lean protein:
– Part-skim or 2 percent cheese
– Nonfat Greek yogurt (light flavors or plain)
– 90 percent lean or leaner ground meat
– Skinless poultry, lean beef or pork
Choose two fiber-rich ingredients:
– Raw vegetables
– Cooked vegetables (consider frozen options for convenience)
– High-fiber starch (such as quinoa, tortillas, bread, cereal and skin-on potatoes)
Choose flavor boosters too:
Citrus juice, fresh/dried herbs, spices, light/low-calorie condiments and small sprinkles of toasted nuts or Parmesan can make meals shine.
Add in some healthy fun
Aim to make at least half the meal vegetables and fruits and one-quarter of the meal lean protein. Fun ideas include:
- Build a bowl night – You can put out ingredients so people can build a healthy, custom-fit meal! Think of your favorite flavor profiles for inspiration (Mexican=burrito bowl, Asian=Mongolian BBQ).
- Breakfast for dinner – Make breakfast sandwiches/burritos, scramble eggs with vegetables or have a bowl of low-sugar whole grain cereal with low-fat or skim milk. (Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, Original Kix, Puffins and Cinnamon Puffins are a few recommended cereal options.) Serve fruit on the side, and you have a reasonably balanced meal that can fuel your family any hour of the day!
- Indoor picnic – Load lettuce leaves or whole grain bread/tortillas/pitas with veggies and a protein-rich filling like tuna or chicken salad (made with Greek yogurt and light mayo) or lean deli meat. Pair with bite-size raw veggies and light dressing for dipping or sliced fruit with unsweetened/low-sugar yogurt for dunking. Spread a blanket on the floor, put on some music and make an ordinary night feel fun and special.
Recipe: Veggie Pizza
The colorful toppings on this pizza make this fiber-filled dish beautiful and delicious! Tomato paste and thinly sliced vegetables keep the crust light and crispy. For those who like their pizza meaty, use leaner options like turkey pepperoni or pre-cooked turkey sausage (drain off any extra fat). Serve with a big salad and light dressing on the side, and consider a healthy school-night meal done in less time than it takes for delivery!
- 4 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
- 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced*
- 1/2 small green bell pepper, very thinly sliced*
- 1 Roma tomato, seeds removed, diced into very small cubes*
- 2 large mushrooms, very thinly sliced*
- 1/2 cup baby spinach
- 1-2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
*These vegetables need to cook in a short amount of time. Because of this, peppers, mushrooms and onions should be very thinly sliced and tomatoes should have seeds removed before dicing.
Heat oven to 425°F. Lightly coat a baking pan with cooking spray. Place tortillas on pan. Put tortilla in oven for 3 minutes to crisp up one side. Check earlier if baking on a dark metal pan. Remove pan from oven and use a heat-safe spatula to flip tortillas over onto a heat-safe surface (like a plate). Spread 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste evenly over each tortilla, then sprinkle with oregano and garlic.
Next, evenly divide onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach among the 4 tortillas. Make sure not to overload any pizza with too many toppings; it can make the crust soggy. Sprinkle 1/4 -1/2 cup of cheese evenly on top of each tortilla. Return tortillas to the baking pan and cook for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is crisp. Remove immediately from oven and use spatula to transfer from baking pan to heat-safe surface. Pizza will continue to cook and may burn if left on pan.
By Sonya Islam, dietitian