Whether you’re feeding a large or small family, it can be a challenge to get a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table night after night. If you’re looking for alternatives to take-out and fast food, try these smarter solutions. The secret? Smart planning and a little teamwork.
Shop with an eye for convenience. These days, supermarkets, delis and specialty stores are stocked with foods designed for busy cooks. While these are a good alternative to mass-produced pre-packaged foods, read the labels to find choices that are low in fat and sugar and high in fibre and other nutrients. Look for items like low-fat pasta sauces, chopped veggies, frozen stir-fry kits, pre-washed salad greens and low-fat salad dressings. Serve unsweetened, pure fruit juice, vegetable juice or skim or 1% milk with meals instead of pop or fruit drinks.
Create your own fast food. Think of your kitchen as a healthy version of a short-order restaurant. Stock it with healthy versions of fast food favourites that can be whipped up in a few minutes. For example:
- Pizza. Top frozen pizza crusts or pita breads with your choice of tomato sauce, low-fat mozzarella, frozen spinach/grilled peppers, canned pineapple chunks, lean ham.
- Omelettes. A carton of eggs (or egg whites) plus some fresh frozen veggies and a little low-fat cheese makes a satisfying supper.
- Subs and sandwiches. Stock up on whole-wheat rolls (stash in the freezer), turkey slices, low-fat cheese, lettuce and tomato.
- Pasta. Always stock a variety of dried pasta (especially whole wheat) and tomato-based sauces.
- Soup. Vegetable puree soup with crusty whole wheat bread makes a quick weeknight supper.
Take it slow. You don’t need a space-age “smart home” to get dinner cooking before you get home. Your mom knew all about the magic of owning an electric slow cooker: Just toss the ingredients in before heading out, and return home to a delicious stew, chili or casserole.
Have a professional stock your fridge or freezer. It may not be as extravagant as it sounds. A personal chef can provide customized meals that satisfy your family’s specific likes and dislikes, as well as special dietary considerations, at a cost per person comparable to dining out. If you tally up the time you would have spent planning, shopping, chopping, prepping and cooking, it could make sense for you.
Cook one day, rest six. Harness the power of community cooking. Enlist the help of your sous chefs — your spouse or partner, your kids, or some friends who want to pool resources — for one afternoon or evening each week. With their help washing, chopping and stirring, it should be possible to make a few large dishes to last most of the week. Foods like casseroles, chili, soups and lasagna work well. Store one or two in the fridge and freeze the rest. Depending on the size of your family, one dish may last two nights.
Do-it-yourself — with a little help. Like the idea of community cooking but lack the helping hands? Want a personal chef but lack the funds? Look for a supper prep service in your area, where you book an appointment and choose a number of dishes from their menu. They do the shopping and the chopping — you just come in and assemble pre-chopped ingredients into a week’s (or month’s) worth of freezable meals.
Let the food come to you. Trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, but no time to shop? Check to see if there’s a delivery service in your area. Possible sources include online grocery stores, organic delivery services and community shared agriculture (CSA) programs, where you purchase a share in a local farm that provides a weekly box of fresh, local produce.
Set up your go-to recipe book. Ever make a meal and say, “That was so quick and tasty, I should make that again” — and then promptly forget the recipe? Grab a binder or a folder and label it “Quick and easy weeknight recipes.” Every time you find a winner that uses ingredients you usually have on hand, add it to the collection. Next time you need dinner in a hurry, check the binder first.
Looking for recipes? Check out our recipes for delicious and nutritious meals and snacks.