Family life offers its share of joys and challenges. Some responsibilities - like the need to feed the family each day - can fall into both categories.
Grocery shopping and meal preparation take time and energy. Adults may be able to get by with skipping an occasional meal or eating a late dinner, but children have small stomachs. They need regular meals and supplemental snacks.
Eating a variety of foods is important for adults who want to maintain health and have the energy to make the most of each day, and more so for children, who, in addition to energy needed to fuel their activities, need essential vitamins and minerals for growth and development. Knowing that doesn't always make getting a meal on the table any easier.
Here are some tips to help families to simplify meal preparation:
- Simplify breakfast with a whole-grain cereal, milk and juice. Toast and juice, or less traditional breakfast choices, such as a sandwich or leftovers like a slice of cold pizza, also can make a good occasional breakfast.
- Pizza typically includes one or more grains in the crust, tomatoes and vegetables and cheese as toppings.
- Encourage children to participate - teach them to wash hands before and after eating, how to set the table and help clean the kitchen. Begin with age-appropriate tasks and allow children to grow in responsibility.
- Make it easy. If short on time in the morning, set out tableware the night before. Transfer milk and juice to smaller, easy-to-pour containers to reduce spills.
- To simplify lunch, vary bread and sandwich fillings; try a wrap or quesadilla, which is like a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Sandwiches and salads often can be made ahead and refrigerated until mealtime. Don't overlook soups that are easy, filling and usually nutritious. Many summer soups can be made ahead and served cold. Others often can be reheated quickly in the microwave.
- Use the grill, slow cooker and microwave to speed dinner preparation.
- Grilling meat and vegetables outdoors keeps the heat out of the kitchen on warm summer days. Place large slices or chunks of vegetables directly on the grill grid. Use pouches of aluminum foil for smaller vegetables that might slip through the grid.
- A slow cooker may require a few minutes during early morning hours, but can make short work of getting dinner on the table in the evening.
- Children can be quite adept in using a microwave to reheat leftovers or prepare part of the meal. Be sure to teach your children safety precautions when using the microwave.
- Combine prepared foods with those made at home. Choose a roasted chicken from the grocery store, and serve it with precut vegetables and a salad. Cover and refrigerate any leftover chicken and vegetables for a salad the following day.
- Plan snacks to supplement energy levels between meals. Some easy snack ideas include: fresh fruit; vegetables such as sliced carrots, celery, cucumbers or green peppers and dip; cheese; glass of milk; yogurt; pudding or a smoothie that combines milk or yogurt and fruit.
- Dry cereal can make a great snack, but measure portions rather than eat the cereal right out of the box.
- To encourage children to eat fresh fruit, cut cool, summery melons into chunks and place in a see-through container in the refrigerator. Make it easy and healthy.
Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.