American home cooks are sold on fast, easy recipes. Magazines, television programs, and Web sites (including FamilyTime!) dedicate a good amount of space and time to providing them.
We want meals that take no time. Many of us seem to want to avoid spending time in the kitchen, and yet we want our families to eat well.
Social scientists tell us that sitting down with our families every night is essential to the overall well being of our children and ourselves, but the reality of getting a meal on the table overwhelms many of us.
This does not have to be the case.
Decide on several recipes at the beginning of every week (or month) and then shop for them. Take full advantage of the freezer and the microwave (for defrosting and reheating).
Get in the habit of keeping your family’s favorite staples on hand. (And we don’t mean chicken nuggets or frozen pizza.) Stock up on rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned broth, chicken parts, and ground meat.
Remember flavor enhancing items such as soy sauce, vinegar, olive oil, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, and salsa. Keep salad dressing, pasta sauce, bottled marinades, and similar products in the pantry.
When you shop, buy lettuce, onions, fresh peppers, and carrots so that you can always make a crisp salad. Buy the fresh or frozen vegetables that your family likes, such as peas, broccoli, green beans, squash, and spinach.
Label everything you put in the freezer and plan to use it within the month -– even if you know it will keep longer. Few things are more discouraging than a freezer full of meat too past its prime to be usable.
Don’t Be Afraid!
Cook dishes you and your family like. Spaghetti and meatballs (or just plain spaghetti!), sloppy joes, stir-fried chicken and veggies, oven-baked chicken, broiled pork chops, and gently poached fish all make easy and nutritious family meals. Serve them with frozen vegetables or a freshly made salad.
The point is to get into the kitchen and cook! Thirty minutes in the kitchen at the end of a busy day can be relaxing and satisfying. The kids wander in and out –- and may stay to chop carrots or tear lettuce. As you work, casually chat with family members about school, work, and sports.
If you have the ingredients on hand and if you don’t try anything too complicated, you will find that the meal comes together almost effortlessly. The more often you make these easy family meals, the easier and more pleasant they will be. Practice does make perfect in this case -- or as close to perfect as you need to be. And once you master these, you may want to go for more difficult preparations.
As dinner cooks, the house will fill with aromas that entice the kids from computers, televisions, and texting. Put them to work setting the table -– and then later cleaning up. Grumbling about these chores is part of being a kid. No one really minds!
Give Yourself a Break
Finally, if you can’t assemble the kids every night of every week for supper, don’t worry about it. There will always be those evenings when a slice of pizza grabbed on the way out the door is the best you can manage.
Try to plan family meals as often as you can. Set a realistic minimum and then make a good effort to meet it. This might be three weeknights and Sunday supper. Soon, the family will come to expect these meals –- and look forward to them.