Nutritious (and Easy!) Winter Family Meals

Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Jodi Nemeth shares why it's so important to plan your winter family meals when schedules get hectic. She should know! She's the busy mom of four kids.

If you’re like me when it gets cold and dark in the evening, I lose my motivation to run errands like going to the grocery store. But I know the importance of nutritious winter family meals. Our week runs much more smoothly if we have everything planned out — including our meals.

Meal planning helps us avoid the cost of eating out, the calories of fast food, and the question that every mother dreads, “What’s for dinner?” when you have no idea.

Meal planning can sound overwhelming but can be a simple process.  It doesn’t have to consume your weekend to get you set for the week. I suggest starting the process like this:

  1. Make a list of all the meals that your family enjoys. It can be classic favorites like spaghetti, tacos and chicken noodle soup.
  2. Inventory your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry to see what you have on hand and what may need to be used up.
  3. Decide how many days that you want to plan for.  Some people plan for all three meals a day and some only plan dinners. You don’t even have to be for all seven days a week either.
  4. Select your recipes or dinner ideas. Getting input from the family is always helpful! You satisfy everyone’s taste and save yourself the brain power of trying to think of all the meal ideas.
  5. Make your list of ingredients that you need from the store, organize your list into categories if you are doing the shopping. For example, on your list, group all produce together and do the same for frozen foods and other food categories. Or simply place your order online and pick up the groceries or even have them delivered.
  6. Prep your meals. Most likely this will be done on Sunday and does not have to be a day long process. Look at how busy your week is and see what you need to get done in advance. It could be marinating meat, chopping vegetables, or getting a crock pot meal together.

Part of meal planning is trying to accommodate busy schedules but hopefully it will help you to also find the time to sit down and eat together as a family. There are so many benefits of families eating dinner together. It allows parents to be role models and set an example of healthy eating and appropriate table manners — and eating together encourages good communication.

Rather than eating on the run, sitting at the table without the distractions of phones and the TV also helps us to be more mindful, enjoying the taste of our food and listening to our body to help with appropriate portion control.

Don’t reinvent the meal wheel

Meal planning doesn’t mean that you have to try new recipes every week. If your family loves Taco Tuesday, maybe you can try to improve the nutrition by adding some extra beans or making a taco salad on greens. Or if Friday night is pizza night, make a big fresh salad to go on the side.

After meal planning has become more of a routine for you, you may find that you have some staples on hand for those nights that you didn’t have a plan or you forgot to get your meat out of the freezer and your plan fell through.

I always have a variety of vegetables on hand so we can throw together a salad or roast them on a sheet pan. Other essential pantry items for us are brown rice, quinoa, garbanzo beans, whole grain pasta, and marinara sauce. And in the freezer, we try to have on hand black bean burgers, and nitrate-free chicken sausage.

A clever friend of mine who is also a busy mom of four kids, treats her family one night a week to a fancy charcuterie board dinner that includes fruits, vegetables, and various leftovers from the week. Her kids always love to revisit a previous meal in a new way, and it really helps cut down on food waste, too.

4 new family winter meals to try

Nothing could be easier than focusing on vegetables, lean protein and dairy foods when trying some new meals to entice your family to the table this winter. The addition of delicious dairy foods to your family’s plates is one of the best ways to provide essential nutrients that are important to good health. And, because they are so versatile, you’ll always find a dairy food that is perfect for each member of the family. That’s a win!

We have gathered four new recipe ideas that are perfect for busy families with busy schedules. Each is achieved in 30 minutes or less and each requires minimal prep. You can probably make at least one of these tonight, just with what you have on hand in your kitchen right now.

Here are some highlights:

  • This recipe for Feta Roasted Salmon and Tomatoes maximizes your oven’s power to roast salmon (or another type of fish your family likes) to perfection. It’s fast and one-dish convenient.
  • A Quick Chicken Curry brings together vegetables and chicken with a creamy sauce that is perfect with brown rice. Super yum.
  • Grab a skillet and reminisce about your favorite lazy summer evening. This Chicken Caprese Skillet is the winter version of the mozzarella-centric salad. You’ll love it.
  • Pivot your family’s favorite Tuesday meal into Tostada Tuesday with these Roasted Chicken and Zucchini Tostadas. They’re easy and fun, and did I mention delicious? That they definitely are.

Content brought to you by Milk Means More. Get more recipes and tips for healthy family eating at milkmeansmore.org.

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