Mealtimes are a priority for many families, and also not easy to execute. Work, school, and activity schedules are frequent barriers to consistent meals. At the same time, even at just an average of twenty minutes in length, the benefits of family meals are considerable. Consider these five basic plans to make shared meals a regular part of your family’s routine.
Meal #1: Wraps
Wraps are a quick and fun meal any evening of the week. They also satisfy different food preferences and dietary restrictions. Keep these ingredients available for your next wrap night.
- Four, corn or rice tortillas
- 1 can black beans or vegetarian refried beans
- Shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
- Reduced-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt
- Salsa and/or guacamole
- Diced tomatoes
- Shredded lettuce
- Sliced peppers
Alternatives: Lean ground beef, ground turkey, soy crumbles, diced baked tofu. Accompaniments: Brown rice or quinoa and a simple green salad.
Meal #2: Burgers
Try an adapted version every week.
- Veggie burgers, or lean ground beef for the carnivores
- Whole grain buns
- Lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, salsa, etc.
Alternatives: Black bean burgers, turkey burgers
Accompaniments: Baked sweet potato fries and roasted or steamed broccoli
Meal #3: Pasta
Pasta is a solid foundation for a variety of meals. Keep it simple for starters.
- 1 lb pasta of your choice (plain, whole wheat, gluten free)
- 1 small jar prepared pesto
- 1 can diced tomatoes or 1 small jar of prepared bruschetta
- Shaved parmesan
Pasta alternatives: Cheese or vegetable-filled ravioli or tortellini, spaghetti squash, rice noodles
Alternatives (add-ons): Prepared olive tapenade and roasted red peppers; 1 can tuna, 1 can white beans, chopped cherry tomatoes
Accompaniments: Fresh mixed greens salad with shaved Parmesan
Meal #4: Salad bar
Salad bars are satisfactory for omnivores all around. Here is a suggested list of options to choose from.
- Mixed greens for the base
- Diced tofu or chicken
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Canned beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- Shredded cheese, feta or gorgonzola crumbles, or fresh mozzarella
- Shredded or baby carrots
- Diced or cherry tomatoes
- Toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- Broccoli and cauliflower florets
- Chopped pecans or walnuts
- Olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and/or natural lower fat salad dressings of your choosing
Alternatives: Everything is an alternative for salads. Pick what you like.
Accompaniments: Baked potato with Greek yogurt; toasted baguette; bowl of soup
Meal #5: Middle Eastern
Ethnic meals can be simple, and can serve a crowd. Vary the amounts based on your needs.
- 1 – 2 boxes whole wheat couscous or quinoa
- 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Chopped cucumber
- Diced fresh tomatoes
- Crumbled feta cheese
- Sliced kalamata olives
Alternatives: Add diced chicken
Accompaniments: Warmed whole wheat pita bread, plain Greek yogurt
There you have it, five basic plans to help you make shared meals a regular and realistic part of your family’s routine.
Anne Marie Kuchera, MS, MA, RD, LPC is a registered dietitian, and both a licensed nutritionist and licensed professional counselor. She manages community-based obesity prevention and preventive health and wellness initiatives through Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.