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Meal-prep magic

By ALETHEA PRICE

The Kitchen Agent

This time of year, many families are trying to manage extremely busy schedules. Balancing schedules for both school and work can be pretty demanding on your time and resources. Because of all the things we have high on our list of priorities these days, family meals don’t always make the cut —  but let me tell you why it should.

Research suggests having dinner together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. Children’s social skills are developed through social interaction. Engaging in family mealtime teaches children firsthand how they should behave in social situations.

Eating dinner together as a family provides the opportunity for conversation. Parents, here’s your chance to healthy communication without distractions from smart phones, television, computers and mobile devices. By engaging your children in conversation, you teach them how to listen and provide them with a chance to express their own opinions. This allows your children to have an active voice within the family.

Family dinners have also been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders and an increased chance of graduating from high school.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Now you’re wondering how you could possibly make time to cook a hot meal for your family during the week. Would you believe me if I told you that you could have a week’s worth of healthy dinners ready with only one day of meal preparation? All you need is a plan and an afternoon.

The first step in meal planning is having your recipes selected. Make a grocery list based on the meals you wish to prepare. Always plan one meal to have plenty of leftovers. Leftover chicken can easily work in the confetti chicken quesadillas recipe.

Remember, you’re going to be preparing foods in advance so supplies such as storage and freezer bags, plastic wrap and aluminum foil may also be necessary.

Plan your meals based on sale items and what’s in season. This way you save money and use the freshest ingredients available in Boyle County. One-dish meals, including casseroles and skillet meals, are easy to prepare in advance and preserve.

Don’t forget to try a meatless meal once a week. Eggplant lasagna is a great recipe to try where your family won’t even miss that meat.

The second step is preparation. Once all the groceries are purchased, this is when the fun begins. Take one afternoon to make dishes in advance and freeze them for a fast meal whenever you need it.

Cook casseroles according to recipes and cool completely before freezing. Thaw casseroles and other dishes in the refrigerator the night before to save on cook time.

Ingredients for crock pot meals can be assembled in advance and stored in the freezer also — just dump the contents of the bag into the crock pot in the morning and come home to a hot meal. However, not all meals have to be hot. Consider making a salad as a weeknight entrée. Top with leftover grilled chicken and low-fat dressing.

Try to involve your whole family in the meal preparation process — it gives kids the opportunity to learn how to prepare healthy meals. Picky eaters are also less picky when it comes to eating foods they helped prepare. Plus, meal prepping is so much easier with a few extra hands.

Eating dinner together as a family also encourages healthy eating habits and provides a model for children to carry with them into adulthood. Studies show family dinners increase the intake of fruits and vegetables; families who eat dinner together tend to eat fewer fried foods and drink less soda; and family meal frequency is linked to the intake of protein, calcium, and some vitamins. Who knew family dinners could do so much?

Our over-scheduled busy lifestyles don’t leave much time for a healthy meal at the end of the day. Don’t pass up this precious opportunity to communicate with your family and build a strong, lasting bond.

Making a meal plan is easier than most people think. Although it takes a little time up front, it can save time in the long run. Once you get used to it, making a weekly meal plan will seem easy. Make dinner time a family tradition again.

If you have questions or comments about the column, or if you’d like more information feel free to contact me by email at a.price@uky.edu

IF YOU GO

Do you want to learn more about meal prepping? Join Alethea 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27 at the Boyle County Public Library for an Adult How To: Meal Prepping class. The program is free and no registration is required.