If you’re remotely normal, one of the biggest last minute decisions you make every day is: what’s for dinner? It’s seems grammatically incorrect, and yet altogether accurate at the same time, that this sentence – and the decision – ends with a question mark. Que sera sera. It is what it is.
Do you ever find yourself uptight about it? You’ve been managing your day and all your responsibilities just fine and then your husband or child innocently asks: what’s for dinner tonight? Quite coincidentally – I swear it’s so weird – you’re suddenly having a very bad mood! Ha! Join the rest of the well-meaning, overwhelmed moms of the world.
Here’s what I know about making a healthy dinner for my family: It doesn’t happen on its own. Left to my own devices I end up around 4:30 scrambling to throw something together, running to the grocery store last minute, or asking my husband to stop and grab something on his way home. Or we fall back on the crutch of take-out. Which, by the way, is not usually a healthy option for anyone and, long term, will strain both your wallet and your waistline.
Here’s the truth: we want to eat healthy and feed our families well but we’re not sure how to make that happen every single day. Right? Well let’s just let ourselves off the hook here right at the start. We don’t have to do this perfect, OR every day. Let’s just start with today. Today is always a great place to start.
What I’ve found is that changing our relationship with food is about a slow, deliberate process of acquiring simple, clean, whole-food recipes that are easy to make, healthy, AND delicious. They have to be introduced gradually until they find welcome from all the opinions, preferences and taste buds of my family — and I’m sure from yours as well.
The most important thing? Give yourself time. Freedom. Explore. Tear out recipes in magazines. Peruse Pinterest. Try them! Some will fail or completely flop but a few are fantastic. And those few that you love will slowly become your arsenal.
Here are a few things I consider when creating a healthy dinner for my family or debating whether to add a new recipe to my arsenal:
Easy: For me, go-to recipes have to have less than ten ingredients, be able to make in less than an hour (but 30 minutes is better), and taste great. It’s also a major bonus if it requires only one or two pans.
Adaptable: One small word about recipes: who needs to follow a recipe exactly? Not me! And not you either. Free yourself from the rule of the recipe. Those rules are meant to be broken! Unless you’re baking. Then good grief, follow the recipe! But in general, when it comes to cooking, you know what you like. If a recipe calls for parsley and you hate parsley? Don’t put it in! If it calls for red pepper and you have yellow pepper, substitute! If it says fry, saute it in olive or coconut oil instead. Small tweaks make a huge difference and most of the things you love can be made healthier and still have amazing (if not more) flavor.
Color: When you look at nature it is full of color. Sadly the same is not true of the typical American diet. Processed food tends to be either monotone in color, or neon and artificial. When I cook for my family I try to have as many bright, natural colors as possible represented because that means I’m cooking with whole, real food and that makes my whole body happy.
Flavor: There’s a faulty belief that equates good food with high fat and calories. If it’s good, it must be bad for you. Right? Wrong. In fact, the farther you get away from heavy sauces, added sugar and rich extras — you won’t even like them. Once you detox your system from all the processed, fake or high saturated fats your body won’t even be able to tolerate them. You can get to the place where you find far more satisfying flavor with a squeeze of lemon than a pad of butter. Swear.
Portion: One of the biggest problems we face with our food is simply how much we eat. Several years ago I stopped using a dinner plate. In fact, we have dinner plates but they’ve rarely been used and only for company. Instead, we eat every dinner meal on a salad plate and I eat my breakfast in a snack bowl. Because here’s what I know about myself: I’m a clean plate girl. It’s how I was raised in a good Midwestern home. Give me a big plate and I’ll clean it. So I now I use a small plate and life is better.
Being a mom is hard. Being a mom who manages to get a healthy dinner on the table once in awhile is even harder. But we can do hard things. Yes. We. Can. Free yourself from what you should eat and start exploring what looks amazing. Flip through recipes in fun, colorful, bright magazines. Scroll Pinterest feeds on clean recipes. Pick up a new healthy cookbook. The most beautiful part about cooking is there are no rules. Only what you love. Keep it simple. Find what you love and slowly make it better. Healthier. More colorful. Naturally flavored. And perfectly portioned.
See? You’re already on your way. Not so hard at all. So, may I ask: What’s for dinner tonight?