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Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

Feeling the pressure of back-to-school yet?

Big schedule changes and new responsibilities leave many people (myself included) relying on take-out more than usual.

It makes sense. Your focus has shifted to more pressing things, putting homemade family meals temporarily on the backburner. 

August is Kids Eat Right Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tries to keep the focus on the importance of healthy eating for children and their families, even during back-to-school season.

Give your mealtime motivation a boost during this busy time by trying the following tips:

Keep it simple. Don’t try to make meals that need a multitude of hand-chopped ingredients, leading to an even greater multitude of dirty dishes. With input from your children, curate a small collection of family favorites to help you get in and out of the kitchen in less than 30 minutes. Cycle through these recipes regularly, and pretty soon both grocery shopping and meal prep will be a snap.

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Choose ingredients that do double duty. Save shopping time by stocking up on ingredients you can use for more than one meal throughout the week. Cook two pounds of lean ground beef, instead of one. Use half for Sloppy Joes on whole grain buns one night, and reheat the other half to throw in a casserole the next night.

Drive past the drive-thru. A trip to a favorite takeout place is lovely, on occasion. Depending on your menu choices, however, it could be taking away from your family’s health in more ways than one. A semi-homemade meal that incorporates lean protein, whole grains and vegetables will provide great nutrition, and hopefully leftovers (Oh, hello savings!). Keep it semi-homemade by using canned or frozen vegetables and store-bought sauces or spice packets. The key is to read labels for the versions low in extra salt, added sugar and saturated fat.

Make family meals an expectation. Tell every family member to be home for dinner at a set time each day. People are creatures of habit. They’ll start to look forward to this time together and arrange their schedules accordingly.

Make it enjoyable. Add some excitement to family meals with theme dinners. Use a checkered tablecloth for and Italian-inspired meal, and bust out the chopsticks when serving an Asian-inspired dish. Dine al fresco on the back patio, and bring a cheat sheet of fun conversation starters to liven up your family discussions. You might learn something new about one another.

Start small. You don’t have to drive past the drive-thru every time to make family meal gains. Set a goal to limit take-out to a couple times a week. If you have a set schedule, designate your busiest couple days for these meals each week. Make a commitment to prepare a semi-homemade meal at home at least one night per week. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a new tradition and setting new, bigger family meal goals.

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If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384, tara.dunker@unl.edu, or visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu.

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