Phone icon circle

Dinner hacks for busy families

If you’re a working parent with kids then you know the dinner struggle is real. Figuring out quick and healthy meals that kids can eat before or after practice—and that you aren’t too tired to make after spending all day at the office—is a challenge. As a physician assistant at Vancouver Clinic and a mom of three boys, I’m also in the thick of these busy family years. Below are some of my hacks to get good food on the table fast.

Wrap it up

Salads are a fast, fresh, and easy dinner option, particularly if you use prewashed spinach and lettuce leaves. However, they aren’t always an easy sell with kids. The solution? Put salad ingredients in a whole-wheat tortilla or pita pocket. Chop up your family’s favorite vegetables and add hummus, cheese, or leftover meat for protein. Your family gets a big serving of veggies and no one whines about eating salad for dinner.

Make a pasta salad

Make a healthy pasta salad in minutes. Simply put some whole-wheat noodles on to boil. Chop up a few veggies—broccoli works great—and put them in a strainer in the sink. Once the noodles are done, pour the hot water and the noodles over the veggies to parcook them. Next, toss the noodles and veggies in a bowl with other fun mix-ins such as olives, cheese, and salami. Top with a vinaigrette dressing or pesto for flavor.

Pick up a hot chicken

A pre-roasted chicken is a quick and easy protein option. Use the meat to create chicken tacos with lettuce, tomato, and avocado. Or combine it with some chicken broth, noodles, carrots, and celery to make a simple soup. However, remember to remove the skin before serving. It likely contains a lot of extra sodium from the grocery store rub and adds unnecessary fat.

Cook breakfast for dinner

Create a healthy breakfast scramble by sautéing bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, diced potatoes, spinach, kale, or any other veggie combination and adding eggs. Add toast and some fresh fruit and you’re done! Or keep a protein-rich pancake mix in the pantry. Top hot pancakes with nuts, fruit, and a dollop of whipped cream. Cinnamon-spiced applesauce is a sugar-free substitute for syrup.

Fry it

Many grocery stores offer stir fry kits. All you have to do is add a protein—such as tofu or ground chicken—and make some rice. Fried rice is highly adaptable. Sauté leftover veggies with some garlic, ginger, and sesame oil on the stovetop. Or use frozen peas and carrots instead. Drop in a couple eggs and, after they’re done, add some precooked rice. Season with scallions and low-sodium soy sauce.

Be prepared

It goes without saying, but prepping food on the weekend makes weeknight meals a lot easier. Cook and shred chicken breasts and use the meat as a garnish throughout the week. Make a double batch of soup and keep the extra in the fridge. Cook a pot of wild rice or quinoa so you have whole-grain side ready to go. Stock up on precut veggies at the grocery store. It’s a pricier way to shop, but if it means your family can eat healthier it’s probably worth it.

Andrea Velat is a physician assistant at Vancouver Clinic-Ridgefield. She believes in emphasizing preventative measures and lifestyle changes, rather than using drug therapy, whenever possible.