Life can sure get hectic at times. If you’re a parent, then it may be even more hectic. Between work, grocery shopping, after school activities, and homework, evenings are often rushed and late. Getting dinner on the table should be a fun event, and it can be.

The key to creating balanced, easy suppers, is to plan ahead. Using a slow cooker allows you to whip dinner together quickly because you can get the time-consuming part done – your protein. And you can make extra for multiple uses. Vegetables can take a bit of extra prep time too, so chopping vegetables when you buy them, saves time when preparing the actual meal. You can also buy frozen vegetables such as sliced bell peppers with onions (sometimes called fajita mix), cubed butternut squash or frozen shredded potatoes.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Use the slow cooker. There are so many options here.
    • You can add 3 chicken breasts with seasoning and about a cup of water or low sodium chicken broth, cook on low for 5-6 hours. The chicken breasts can be shredded and used in tacos, burrito bowls, salads, or wraps.
    • Add 2-3 peeled, sliced apples, place a 2 pound pork loin, season lightly with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup vegetable stock. Cook 5-6 hours. Serve on hearty rolls for a hot sandwich supper, or add to rice for a one dish meal.

      Slow cooked pork loin sandwich with a side of roasted kale, Brussels Sprouts and sweet potatoes.

  • Roast Vegetables. Not only do roasted vegetables taste amazing, they are so easy. You can make a big batch, and save leftovers for another meal. Just cube a bunch of your favorite vegetables, spread on a lightly greased cookie sheet (I use olive oil), and place in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes. This week I bought a bag of small Brussels Sprouts, sliced onion, and cubed a few sweet potatoes. I drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
  • Think one-dish meals. Pasta and rice is a simple base to top with vegetables and protein. Skillet meals are easy and quick. I made this “Meatball Fondue” this week, and it was a hit. We added a tossed green salad to complete the meal. I made the meatball mixture ahead and refrigerated, the after work, the whole meal only took 20-30 minutes to put together. If you don’t have time for that, simply substitute frozen meatballs.
  • While they are higher in sodium than making a from-scratch recipe, boxed rice and bean dishes are an easy and nutritious starter to a meal. You can simply add a small lean steak or pork loin, or you can just enjoy a meatless meal of rice and beans, and add some fresh fruit or tossed salad to it.
  • Don’t forget dessert! A simple scoop of ice cream can’t get any easier. And a fruit crisp is pretty quick too. We had some pears from our backyard tree this week, so I used those. Simply spray an 8×8 baking dish with vegetable spray, place 4-6 cups sliced pears (or apples) onto bottom of dish, and add a crumb mixture on top (1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup oats, 1/4 cup flour, 3 TB vegetable oil or butter – mix to combine). Bake for 35 minutes in a 375 oven. 

The most important thing is that you set a goal to sit down and eat dinner as a family more often. Sure, I’d like you to offer a balanced, healthy meal, and try new foods and add more veggies, but start by sitting together. Set the table, use real dishes, use napkins, divvy up the chores, and enjoy a family meal!