Family friendly meals that are quick, cheap |

Family friendly meals that are quick, cheap

Bev Bennett
CTW Features

For many modern parents, their children’s growth charts are climbing in an unhealthy direction and for the adults in the home, blood pressure readings are following suit. Now, for the first time, nutritious dinners are going to be a priority in the home.

But then the typical chaos takes over: traffic, work and family commitments, and dinner is a drive-through hamburger franchise or a race through the supermarket for convenience foods to toss together for an instant meal.

Unfortunately, parents could be sabotaging good intentions when they trade speedy burgers and fries or heat-and-eat pizza for their own home cooking.

However, that doesn’t have to be the case. It is possible to cut back on sodium, fat and calories without chaining yourself to the stove if at-home cooks plan ahead, says Susan Nicholson, a registered dietitian, Atlanta, Ga.

It’s probably not news to most people. Planning might even be at the top of that ever-expanding to-do list. But if it keeps getting put off because it seems time-consuming, stop stalling.

Anyone can sketch out a week’s worth of dinners in less time than it takes to watch a reality TV show and the pay-off is worth the investment.

“It makes life so much easier during the week,” says Tracee Yablon-Brenner, Englewood, N.J., a registered dietitian and expert on children’s weight management.

To start, draw a grid for seven days of meals, says Nicholson, author of “7-Day Menu Planner for Dummies” (Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2010).

Don’t be overly concerned with protein foods, such as beef and chicken.

“We have the meats down pretty well. We need more whole grains and vegetables,” says Yablon-Brenner, co-author of “Simple Food for Busy Families” (Celestial Arts, 2009).

Mapping out meals can remind people of what’s missing in their diets.

“When you have the grid you’re more likely to plan for vegetables on the menu,” Nicholson says. She endorses frozen vegetables, packaged without sauces to reduce fat and sodium, as well as fresh.

Use the grid to schedule leftovers. People will save time and money while serving wholesome meals.

Grill twice as many vegetables as needed for a meal. Use the extras in an entree salad. Do the same with chicken breasts. Cold grilled chicken, without added sodium or flavorings, is the nutritious base for a sandwich.

For those still stumped to fill in one day’s meals, call it the using up leftovers day.

“Have an eat-out-of-the-freezer-night. It’s a wonderful way to save money,” Nicholson says.

Once parents have mapped out a week’s worth of meals, introduce new ingredients.

“Experiment with one new thing a week as part of the plan,” Yablon-Brenner says.

Start with familiar foods in a healthier form, says the dietitian.

“Make things that are similar to what your family likes already,” she says.

“Maybe you’ll pick up whole-wheat pasta to feature in Wednesday night’s pasta with clams and garlic.”