13 Ways to Get a Healthy Dinner on the Table Quickly

Avoid ordering take-out and use these simple, realistic tips on how to make a fast, healthy dinner for you and your family.

1. Plan a week’s worth of dinners.
Many of us don’t know what we’re
having for dinner as late as 4pm in the
afternoon. Yet planning ahead takes
just a few minutes. Here’s how to do it.
Every Friday night or Saturday morning,
sit down with a pad of paper and your
favorite cookbooks or some cookery
magazines. Think about what’s in your
freezer and fridge, what your family likes
to eat, what your upcoming week entails.
Then plan out a week’s worth of menus
(you can always leave one night for
takeaway pizzas). At the same time, write
out your shopping list. Now stick the list
of menus on the fridge or bulletin board
so it’s the first thing you see when you
get home. Voilà! No more thinking

2. Enjoy the cooking process.
Of course, not everyone loves cooking. But
there’s no reason to not like doing it. If
the thought of cooking fills you full of
dread, you need an attitude adjustment.
Cooking is a pleasure, far easier than
many non-cooks realize. For the sake
of your health, your pleasure and your
wallet, you should learn – or relearn – the
pleasures of cooking. Make it a project.
Spend time with your friends and family
while they cook so that you can absorb
the methods and routines. Consider
taking a class, or buy an introductory
cookbook. Most of all, lose your fear. It is
harder to be a bad cook than a good cook,
particularly if you use good ingredients.

3. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
If you have children aged ten-plus or another
adult who gets home before you do, get
them started on dinner. For example,
you might ask your partner to pick up
ingredients on the way home, your teen
to start chopping vegetables for the
salad and fill the pasta pot with water,
and your pre-teen to gather necessary
ingredients for a given recipe and put
them on the worktop for you, preheat
the oven and set the table. Yes, they may
think of it as a chore, but if you build in
a little opportunity for them to ‘create’
(for example, with place cards for dinner,
fancy napkin folding, their own recipes) it
will make your children more interested
in nutritious food and will encourage
them to try new things.

4. Stock your freezer with homemade meals.
Stews, soups and chili all freeze
wonderfully. Work out how much of
a one-pot meal you need to feed your
family for one dinner, then buy plastic
containers of that size. Make a pot of
your family favorites at the weekend
and you’ll have four or five meals waiting
in the freezer. A smart freezer is filled
with plastic containers of several different
homemade meals, each labeled with the
contents and the date it was made.

5. Base a meal on good-quality soup

Soup makes a great dinner. It’s
healthy, filling, delicious and easy to
make. If you keep homemade chicken
stock in the freezer, or cans of low-salt
soup stock in the cupboard, it often takes
just a few minutes to whip together an
impromptu vegetable soup. Use 1 litre
of stock or low-salt chicken consommé
as the base. Then just toss in a variety
of chopped veggies such as spinach,
carrots, sweetcorn, peas, green beans and
zucchini. Be sure to include lentils,
chickpeas, butterbeans and other legumes.
They provide excellent protein, lots of fiber,
an array of micronutrients, and are
filling and satisfying at a relatively low
cost in calories. To round out the meal,
have some whole-grain bread (dip it in
olive oil rather than spreading it with
butter) and a salad.

6. Invest in a slow cooker and/or a

Imagine popping a few
ingredients – chicken, a few vegetables,
barley and stock – into a slow cooker
before you leave the house in the morning
and coming home to a satisfyingly
healthy home-cooked meal. Or waking
up to the delicious aroma of bread in the
timed breadmaker. These gadgets can
make life simpler and tastier.

7. Include three old standbys on your
weekly menu.

No one expects you to
come up with a new meal every night.
Pick three low-fuss, nutritious recipes
that you and the family enjoy and, most
importantly, that you can almost cook in
your sleep. You might designate Monday
as pasta or casserole night, Tuesday as
grilled fish night and Wednesday as roasted
chicken night. Include similar vegetable
and grain side dishes as well. This eases the
headache of grocery shopping – you’ll
need many of the same groceries from one
week to the next. Feel free to try new recipes
on weekends when you have more time.

8. Eat together as a family at least three
times a week.

Children who eat dinner
at the table with other family members
are more likely to enjoy a healthy diet
according to research by the National
Family and Parenting Institute in the UK.
Shared family time, including mealtimes,
may also hold the key to building
successful relationships. Families that
eat together are also likely to consume
more fruit and vegetables and drink
fewer soft drinks. Hold a family meeting
and pick nights and times that work for
everyone. Make eating together at the
table non-negotiable.

9. Instead of forcing kids to clean their
plates, enforce a one-bite rule.

Encourage your children to take one bite
out of all the foods on their plate. If, after
one bite, they still don’t want to eat their
spinach or broccoli, let them push it aside.
This technique encourages children to try
new foods, but doesn’t create a stressful
eating experience. Also, involve young
children in preparing foods you want them
to try. A sense of ownership makes them

10. Have breakfast for dinner.
A great ‘breakfast’ option for dinner is an
omelette. It’s quick and easy to make, a
good protein source and relatively low
in calories. Fill it with veggies instead of
cheese, and you have a complete meal in a
frying pan.

11. Plan which night you’ll eat out –
and stick to it.

Rather than eating out
whenever you lack the inspiration – or
groceries – to cook at home, eat out on
a designated night. This makes eating
out what it should be – a treat. You’ll
enjoy the restaurant more and eat more
healthily throughout the week.

12. Keep your shopping and recipe lists
on the computer.

That way, you can just
rotate your weekly menus (along with the
shopping list) every month or every two
months. Thus, once you have, say, eight
weeks of menus, you’re set for the rest of
the year.

13. Use parts of last night’s dinner for
tonight’s meal.

This allows you to cook once and eat
twice. For example, if you have roast
chicken one night, use the
leftovers to serve up chicken fajitas or
chicken salad the next. Prepare all key
protein foods – chicken, turkey, fish, etc.
– in larger-than-needed amounts so they
will last two nights instead of one. Do
the same with rice and other grain-based
side dishes. Serve as a side dish one night
and use the leftovers to make a casserole,
stir-fry or soup the next.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest