Easy meals for afterschool

I am not sure about you, but I feel the pressure as soon as my kids get off the bus. It feels like that is my time to run the marathon of overseeing homework, getting dinner on the table, shuttling to practices and activities, and assuring that bedtime does not happen too late. Many times when families are looking for advice on how to best feed their families they are told to cook more meals from scratch. To be honest I enjoy cooking from scratch and I am fortunate to have time to do it since I do not work full-time, but even working a part-time schedule makes meal prep challenging. Therefore, I am here to say stop your guilt and your worry about creating the perfect meal from scratch every day. Let’s get real and talk about short cuts we can all make to help with easy meals solutions.

Below are some of the staples I keep around to help make easy meals:

  • Fruits and vegetables that are washed, cut, and ready to eat- I will usually take time at some point in the week to make sure fresh foods are prepped. The reason I do this is because it is easy to round out a meal with a platter of fresh fruits and vegetables.  This is also helpful to facilitate lunch packing as they are easy to grab for lunches.

  • Quick cook rice packages- If I have the vegetables cut up then it is quick to make a vegetable stir fry or fried rice. I will throw in edamame, peanuts, cashews, and/or cooked egg for protein.

  • Good quality jarred pasta sauce- When searching for a jarred sauce you want to look for brands that have little to no sugar added. There are also many brands that use various pureed vegetables in their sauce and they are good choices. I use these sauces to simmer with cooked meat and vegetables to top pasta. I also use jarred pasta sauce as pizza sauce.

  • Boxed macaroni and cheese- Yes, a dietitian keeps boxed macaroni and cheese. One of the reasons I do is because the directions are easy to follow and my older son is always more than willing to make it and I like that this is a gateway to get him in the kitchen and on busy nights it may free me up to work on something else. I will typically cook up vegetables like mushroom, broccoli, and/or peas and treat it like a mac and cheese toppings bar and serve it with fresh fruit. Depending upon your preference there are several brands to choose from that are gluten free, organic, or made without artificial colors.

  • Canned beans- After a can of beans are rinsed and drained they are easy to use as a salad topper, make into a soup/chili, add to quesadillas, pizza topping, or added to pasta.

  • Whole grain tortillas, pitas, and naan- I used these items to make pizzas, quesadillas, or sandwiches. I keep the naan around because Aldi makes the best tikka masala sauce that I simmer with chickpeas and serve over rice with naan (as well as fruits and vegetables on the side). My kids love naan and sauce nights!

  • Cooked meat- At the beginning of the week I will either purchase a rotisserie chicken (if on sale) or I cook up at least 1 pound of some kind of meat. I can make it stretch through the week by adding beans to make a taco filling or adding cooked vegetables to make a soup or pasta dish. When it is already cooked it is one less step that you have to take on a busy night.

    The above are some of the items I have found helpful in creating easy meals for my family. Rather than assuming that the only way to have healthy meals is to cook from scratch I think we need to be realistic and realize that is not always possible. I believe that serving boxed macaroni and cheese with fresh fruits and vegetables is better for your family’s health than going through a drive thru for fast food.  I hope I have given you some information to help you create some easy family meals for that after school scramble.