Dinner as a family is huge. I'm pretty sure it's one of the top goals of every mom on the face of the planet. And with good reason! Research consistently tells us that families that eat together, stay together. Dr. Anne Fishel, PhD writes for The Family Dinner Project,
"Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience."
Have you ever stopped to think about all the significant events in the Bible that center around a meal or a feast? Gathering at the table was where families and communities came together for fellowship, teaching, and even worship! It was the life of the home.
Perhaps we'll explore those concepts in another post, but the first goal is to get the family to the table for food and nourishment and to develop it as a habit and routine. Now I'm sure if you're reading this article, you've already made a few attempts at this, but it often seems like everything sabotages the dinner hour. Don't give up! Even if you're successful a few nights a week, it makes a difference!
I confess, my goals are lofty for the evening meal. Yet, I want it to be easy, healthy, and inexpensive - cheap if you will! Now, cheap is a relative term and what may be cheap to one person may not be to another, so work on finding meals that fit your ideal price range. There are some who can cook for a month and freeze their meals, but my family doesn't eat casseroles. They prefer fresh food. I do use a crock pot on occasion, but only if it doesn't require me to brown something in advance and it doesn't taste like mush in the end. (Do I sound picky?)
Let's talk about some key tips to make dinner happen. In other words... how to get a simple, nutritious, frugal meal on the table that the family will love without a lot of advance prep work.
School Night Dinner Tips
Find a method to organize your recipes for easy referencing and planning. I use Plan To Eat. The small fee is well worth all the options it provides such as tagging meals as "healthy" or "budget friendly" for easy referencing, drag and drop planning, mobile shopping lists, and many more. Once I set up a meal, planning for the week just takes a few minutes, not an hour or two.
Pick 5 meals and master getting them on the table. Not a month's worth, not 20... only 5 meals that will meet your goals and can be easily prepared. Once you've really mastered 5, then pick another 5 until you have enough for the entire month and you can rotate them. Here's a couple of the ones I'm going to master for the month of September.
♥ 4-Ingredient Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Chicken - I made this once already and it was a hit. Plus it gave me extras for a Salsa Verde Chicken Lasagna made with tortillas or no-bake lasagna noodles layered with sour cream, cheese, and a bit more salsa verde (just bag it up and freeze the extra chicken until you're ready). Add a can of pinto beans and cook some rice and call it done!
♥ One Pot Cajun Chicken & Sausage Alfredo - Don't let the title scare you off. This recipe sounds expensive with two meats, but I just cut out the chicken and used a sausage I knew would appeal to my family and they LOVED it! I'm not guaranteeing this one is low-cal, but there's not a lot of chopping and only one pot to clean... score!
Pick 5 Heat-n-Serve meals to keep on hand. Keep in mind that this beats fast food any night! Three or four ingredients and a skillet and you're ready to go. Here's three of our favorites, most of which can be purchased at Costco:
♥ Aidell's Chicken and Apple Sausage, a frozen green vegetable of some kind (broccoli, beans, stir fry mix, etc.) and oven fries of some kind such as Alexia's Sweet Potato Fries.
♥ Aidell's Teriyaki & Pineapple Meatballs along with Kirkland Frozen Mixed Stir Fry Vegetables pan sauteed in a bit of coconut oil, garlic, tamari or soy sauce, and a can of pineapple. The trick is to cook these in a large skillet with sides, add 1/2 - 1 cup water, a bit of tamari or soy sauce, cover and simmer on low to medium low. Use the broth it forms to keep these meatballs moist and delicious. Serve with rice and you have a great meal with an Asian flare.
♥ Sabatino's Roasted Garlic & Basil Chicken Meatballs. Cook just like the meatballs mentioned above, but serve over pasta noodles tossed in the broth that forms. Add a quick Caesar salad and now you have an Italian inspired option. (Costco has a great gluten free pasta option: GoGo Quinoa Macaroni Noodles).
Pick 5 Breakfast for Dinner meals to make in a pinch. Who doesn't love breakfast for dinner once in a while? It's like the ultimate comfort food. Our family favorites include:
♥ Oatmeal with a touch of butter and maple syrup topped with chopped apples and walnuts.
♥ Scrambled eggs with sauteed left over veggies and toast.
♥ Fruit Smoothies, bagels, and a hard boiled egg or two.
♥ Waffles with peanut butter and bananas.
♥ Biscuits and sausage with gravy.
I hope these easy school night dinner ideas help you enjoy more family meals together, even on those busy school and sport nights! Do you have a great family dinner idea to share? Let us know in the comments below!