“Easy” is the Secret to Family Meals: Five Tools I Use

It’s no secret. I’m a fan of family meals. Eating together as a family while sitting around a table (in front of a TV doesn’t count) has been shown to reduce the odds that kids will be overweight, enhance their school performance, brighten their mood and decrease risky behavior. The reasons for these seemingly magical results are partially due to better nutrition but are also influenced by the conversations that naturally happen when a family joins together around a meal.

When I encourage busy moms and dads to make mealtime a family affair, I often get the response, “We want to have family meals, but we just don’t have time to cook.” I get it. It’s not easy, especially when both parent work and kids have busier schedules than ever before in history.

Five Time Saving Family Meal Tools

Family Meal Tool One: Plan-Ahead with Menu Planners

The first step to winning the family meal battle is knowing what you’re going to cook. There are a lot of meal planning tools out there. The one we’ve used successfully is The Fresh 20. The basic idea is that in addition to standard pantry items, like extra virgin olive oil, that you should always have on hand, you only need to buy 20 fresh ingredients each week to make five family dinners.

The menu creators work with in-season produce to create each weekly plan. Each meal is quick to create and most of the meals are tasty. Note: there are typically a few items you cook-up over the weekend so you can add them to one or more of the recipes.

Family Meal Tool Two: Find Quick and Easy Recipes with Five Ingredients

You’ve likely heard of the six word story movement. The idea is to use only six words to paint a complete picture. But are you familiar with the five-ingredient cookbook movement? The idea is to use only five ingredients to create fast healthy meals and there is no shortage of cookbooks in the genre: From Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food to Fast and Easy Five-ingredient Recipes: A Cookbook for Busy People by Philia Kelnhofer to The 5-Ingredient College Cookbook: Easy, Healthy Recipes for the Next Four Years & Beyond by Pamela Ellgen. And taking it up a notch, there’s Michael Symon’s 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners. There are even five ingredient cookbooks that match eating needs like the Simply Gluten Free 5 Ingredient Cookbook: Fast, Fresh & Simple! by Carol Kicinski.

Family Meal Tool Three: Find Inspiration in Recipes with Photos and Videos

There’s nothing like a great food photo for cooking inspiration.  You probably have your favorite celebrity chef bookmarked on Instagram and Pinterest.  My new fav way to pull up gorgeous (and inspiring) recipes is asking Amazon’s Echo Show. Not only do I get great recipes with beautiful videos, but I can request dishes that have the ingredients we have on hand.

Family Meal Tool Four: Cooking Perfect Whole Grains with a Rice Cooker

Whole grains can take longer to cook than processed grains, but they are worth the time and effort for the extra nutrition they provide. The tool we like to use to make the waiting time non-existent is the Zojirushi Rice Cooker. What’s the advantage? Not only does it make perfect grains (think everything from barley to quinoa), but you can put all the ingredients into the cooker hours before you need it, say before work, and set the timer to start cooking so it’s ready when you walk in the door. It can also hold grains on warm safely for up to 20 hours if you’re running late or change your mind about when to serve the contents.

As a bonus, one of our favorite breakfast meals is steelcut oats that I put into the rice cooker the night before. When we’re feeling adventurous I make savory oats for breakfast, but a fast and simple variation is more traditional with fresh berries. One of our standard standbys is topping with canned tart cherries (easy to keep on hand and loaded with health benefits), toasted almonds, and a drizzle of locally harvested honey.

Family Meal Tool Five: One Pot (or Oven) Cooking with the NEW Brava Oven

Crockpots and pressure cookers are a staple in many kitchens because they allow you to put all the ingredients for a whole meal into one pot saving cooking and cleanup time. These are great tools to have around, but you are limited to cooking things like soups, stews, and chili. Basically, everything that goes in must require the same amount of cooking time and intensity.

I love tech solutions. I am enamored with kitchen gadgets. Combine that with my commitment to healthy food and it only makes sense for me to explore the brand new (launched July 10, 2018) Brava Oven. It uses a new technology called “Pure Light” to cook the food. The oven can go from not in use to 500 degrees very quickly, cutting down on pre-heat time. That’s combined with algorithms programmed to cook food within the oven at different temperatures based on where it is in the oven. The oven is broken into three zones that can be controlled separately by the cook or you can use Brava food kits with pre-programmed meals so you don’t need to think about cooking times at all. Like the other one-pot solutions, clean-up is made easy with only one thing to clean. In this case, it’s a glass tray that can be washed in the dishwasher.

As an advisor for the company, I’ve had early access to demo the oven and taste the food. I can attest, it’s light on prep and heavy on taste. The oven won’t ship until November, but it’s available for preorder now.

Published on: July 10, 2018
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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