Dinner Hacks for Busy Families

By Jennifer Yoon, RDN/LDN, Breastfeeding Educator, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair



I often hear from families during nutrition counseling, “We eat healthy dinners most of the time, except when we have activities.” A stop at the Drive-Thru occasionally can certainly be part of an overall healthy diet. However, in most cases, those busy nights add up and result in fast food or pizza delivery more often than we would like. In most cases, even a quick, thrown-together dinner or reheated frozen meal is going to be healthier and more cost effective than the Drive Thru. For busy nights, try some of these Dinner Hacks for Busy Families:

>  Keep meal staples on hand: rice (boil in bag, microwave and frozen varieties are available), pasta, and spaghetti sauce. 

>  Have some frozen or refrigerated prepared meats: grilled chicken strips, sliced ham, meat loaf, meat balls, turkey breast, rotisserie chicken. Canned meats such as chicken or tuna, or canned beans can be added to rice or noodles to create simple skillet dinners. Next time you cook a large cut of meat, make extra and then slice and freeze for later.

> Pre-prep veggies and fruits, and stock up on frozen and canned varieties. Wash and cut lettuce for salad or buy bagged varieties. Steam-in-bag veggies could not be easier and often have a light sauce for a tasty side dish. Cut carrots, celery, cucumbers, squash, sweet peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, and others can easily be added to a plate raw or added to salads. Cut up veggies can be added to pasta in the last 5 minutes or so of boiling, add diced pre-cooked meat, sprinkle some cheese, and you have an easy one pot dinner. Frozen stir fry meal kits are a life saver. 

>  Baked potatoes can be thrown in the microwave and ready in 5-10 minutes. Add cheese, small cut broccoli and serve with sliced ham.

> Pre-make a large container of pasta to serve as a side. Mix with some veggies, cut meat, and some dressing for a quick pasta salad.

> Who says you have to cook? A healthy plate (see MyPlate.gov) contains a grain, protein, fruit, and veggie, with a dairy on the side. Represent each and be done, for example:

— Crackers or pita bread, hummus, raw veggies and fruit with yogurt.

— Grilled cheese with tomato or veggie soup, carrot slices, apples, and milk

— Turkey sandwich, baked chips, celery sticks, fruit cup, and milk.


>  Don’t order pizza, make it! Add sauce, cheese, and selected toppings to English muffins, deli rounds, or bagels. Everyone can build their own!

>  Breakfast for dinner is a favorite at my house: Toast or English Muffins, eggs or an omelet, fruits, and salad or veggies. 

>  Instant Pots and Slow Cookers are also great time savers. With some advanced planning and time at the grocery store, your busy night meal woes can be solved. 


*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer’s “Nutrition 4 Kids” column on The PediaBlog here.