As the school year is in full swing, the dinner hour is a busy time. With all the running around, it can be tempting to just run through the drive-through and eat in the car on the way to the next event. However, when we eat at home, we not only are spending less money, we are also eating a healthier meal. But the way to get that meal to the table is to plan - and the weekend is a perfect time to do just that. Base your meals on MyPlate - an easy visual to gauge the healthiness of your meal - with half your plate being fruits and vegetables, a quarter as lean protein, a quarter as whole grain, plus a serving of low-fat dairy.
Sept. 24 is recognized as National Family Day to recognize the importance of eating together as a family. Benefits to children are seen when family meals happen between five and seven times per week. Those benefits include improved academic performance and self-esteem, lower rates of obesity and eating disorders and lower incidences of substance abuse and teen pregnancy. An easy way to gather everyone to the table is with a fun food station. This could happen at the evening meal or even breakfast; the important thing is that everyone is present and eats together.
Food stations can be easy meals if you do a little prep work beforehand. Have your family brainstorm ideas on toppings they like, remembering to include fruits and vegetables within the choices. Gather the family into the kitchen Sunday night to chop up a few vegetables or pre-cook some chicken breasts. You can also use frozen vegetables; thaw and then saut them. Cooking ahead allows you a quick and easy meal during the week.
5 food stations for family meals
Oatmeal bar (Because sometimes a family meal is in the morning!) - If you cook your oatmeal in the crockpot overnight, it will be ready to go by morning. Topping ideas: fresh fruits, thawed frozen fruit, nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, maple syrup, flax seed, chia seed, granola and vanilla yogurt.
Potato bar - Use the frozen Steam n' Mash potatoes or pre-bake some baked potatoes and have the following toppings available: broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, salsa, green onions, black beans, cheese, rotisserie chicken or diced ham.
Nacho - Top whole grain corn chips with chicken, black beans, salsa, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, pre-cooked brown rice (find it in the freezer section), crumbled cooked lean hamburger, corn, peppers, plain Greek yogurt, cheese. Bake it in the oven for 5-10 minutes until cheese melts.
Pasta - Precook whole grain pasta and top with a variety of sauces: low-fat Alfredo, pesto, marinara, steamed vegetables, cooked shrimp, cooked chicken, reduced-fat meatballs, fresh basil, cheeses, fresh baked bread.
Pizza - Whole grain pita crusts or whole grain tortillas with toppings: cheeses, pesto sauce, pizza sauce, cooked broccoli, diced peppers, canned pineapple tidbits, olives, mushrooms, diced ham, turkey pepperoni, cooked chicken, fresh herbs.
Chicken Nacho Supreme
All you need:
Whole grain tortilla chips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups diced rotisserie chicken
1 cup black bean and corn salsa
1 cup finely shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
Sour cream, green onions, optional
All you do:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread a single layer of tortilla chips on baking pan.
3. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Saut red bell pepper, stirring constantly, until crisp-tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon evenly over chips.
4. Combine chicken and salsa in a bowl. Spoon over bell peppers. Sprinkle cheese on top.
5. Bake for 5 minutes at 350 degrees, or until cheese is melted.
6. Serve with sour cream and chopped green onions, if desired.
7. *Low-fat option: Use baked tortilla chips.
Katie Wilhelmi is a registered dietitian at the Marshall Hy-Vee Food Store.