By: Amanda Jochum, RD, LMNT, 156th & Maple Hy-Vee Dietitian

The school year is in full swing, and if your family is like mine, the dinner hour is a busy time.  With all the running around, I am often tempted to just run through the drive-thru and eat in the car on the way to our next event.

However, when we eat at home, we not only spend less money, we also eat a healthier meal. As a full-time Hy-Vee dietitian, mom of 3 kids and a wife of a husband that works evening hours and weekends, it can be challenging to get a healthy meal on the table without the kids raiding the snack pantry before dinner is finished each night!

I’ve learned that one way to get our healthy meals to the table is to plan – and for me, the weekend is a perfect time to do just that. I often think through the week to determine which nights call for quick sandwiches, a crock pot entree or more time to cook a meal. One simple tool to plan my family’s meals is using MyPlate – an easy visual to gauge the healthiness of a meal. Half of the plate is fruits and vegetables, a quarter is a lean protein, a quarter is a whole grain, plus a serving of low-fat dairy on the side.

As mentioned, I am a Hy-Vee dietitian and each September Hy-Vee celebrates, along with other community partners and retailers, National Family Meals Month™. National Family Meals Month™ is a movement to raise awareness of the benefits of frequent family meals.  We all want to work together to bring families back to the table to share one more meal at home per week.

Five to seven family meals each week have huge benefits for children. This includes improved academic performance and self-esteem, lower rates of obesity and eating disorders and lower incidences of substance abuse and teen pregnancy.  Preparing meals at one of our “Simple Fix” Freezer Meal-Building workshops or picking up a Mealtime Kit at Hy-Vee are also simple ways to help make a healthy meal at home when time is short! Or this month’s Hy-Vee Family Meal’s Month in-store dinner specials are a great way to help with getting the family together for a quick meal as well!

Another easy way I like to gather everyone at our family table is with a fun food station.  This happens at the evening meal or even breakfast; the goal is for everyone to eat together.  Food stations can be easy meals if you do a little prep work beforehand. Have your family brainstorm ideas on toppings they like, remembering to include fruits and vegetables within the choices.  I love gathering my family into the kitchen Sunday night to chop up a few vegetables or pre-cook some chicken breasts. I also enjoy using frozen vegetables – simply thaw and then sauté! Cooking ahead allows us a quick and easy meal during the week.  

5 Favorite Food Stations for Family Meals:

Oatmeal Bar (Because sometimes a family meal is in the morning!) – If you cook your oatmeal in the crockpot overnight, it will be ready to go by morning.  Topping ideas: fresh fruits, thawed frozen fruit, nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, maple syrup, flax seed, chia seed, granola, and vanilla yogurt.

Spud Bar – Pre-bake some baked potatoes and have the following toppings available: broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, salsa, green onions, black beans, cheese, rotisserie chicken or diced ham.

Nacho – Top whole grain corn chips with chicken, black beans, salsa, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, pre-cooked brown rice (find it in the freezer section), crumbled cooked lean hamburger, corn, peppers, plain Greek yogurt, cheese.  Bake it in the oven for 5-10 minutes until cheese melts.

Pasta – Precook whole grain pasta and top with a variety of sauces: low-fat alfredo, pesto, marinara, steamed vegetables, cooked shrimp, cooked chicken, reduced-fat meatballs, fresh basil, cheese, freshly baked bread.

Pizza – Whole grain pita crusts or whole grain tortillas with toppings: cheese, pesto sauce, pizza sauce, cooked broccoli, diced peppers, canned pineapple tidbits, olives, mushrooms, diced ham, turkey pepperoni, cooked chicken, fresh herbs.

For more quick and easy dinner ideas, check out www.hy-vee.com/recipes-ideas  or contact your local Hy-Vee dietitian. Here’s to many more family meals around your table this month and beyond!