The Dinner Time Dilemma: How to Plan Ahead, Eat Better, Spend Less

by Julie Poole, M. Ed., Connections Manager


Deciding what to make for dinner can sometimes feel overwhelming. Choosing meals that are healthy, family-friendly, and simple to prepare is not always an easy task.  Check out our tips and tricks for pulling together nutritious, tasty meals in a jiffy, all while being cost conscious.

  1. Use “multi-use” products such as ground beef, chicken, or tofu. This is a great way to use one product in multiple ways throughout the week by changing an ingredient or two for a completely different flavor profile. Try shredding chicken or beef for tacos and fajitas. Use ground or slice meat in sandwiches like Sloppy Joes or Cheese Steaks. Make a soup, stew, or casserole using leftovers.
  2. Batch Cook – cooking bulk items such as grains, meats, and beans in advance makes dinner prep a breeze on busy weeknights.
  3. Don’t Take it, Make it– take out food may seem like an easy option, but it can be costly and unhealthy. In the same amount of time that it takes to go through the drive-through, you could have a fast and healthy meal at a fraction of the cost.
    • Instead of chicken nuggets and fries, try rotisserie chicken with roasted potatoes
    • Instead of delivery pizza, make English Muffin pizzas with the family
    • Instead of Asian takeout, make a simple stir fry with your protein of choice and whatever veggies you have on hand
  4. Use Seasonal Produce – planning menus around what is fresh and local is not only cost effective, but it also brings seasonal variety to your table with great taste and wonderful color.
    • Plan meals around what is in season
    • Visit your local farm market or produce store
    • Sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm Share
  5. Use a Slow Cooker – this appliance takes the work out of meal prep. Place your ingredients in the slow cooker, set the timer, and come home to a hot dinner after a busy day!
    • Prep “Freezer to Slow Cooker” meals in advance
    • Try a slow cooker “Dump” Recipe
    • Use a less expensive cut of meat and cook all day in the slow cooker- it will come out tender and delicious
  6. Cold Prep Meals – short on time but looking for something healthy and satisfying? These easy options are perfect when you don’t want to fire up the oven or stove. Chicken salad and egg salad make great sandwiches. Try making pasta salad with ham or tuna. For a vegetarian treat, toss cold noodles with sesame sauce and tofu.
  7. Go Veg or Go Home – replacing a meat-based meal with a plant-forward meal just one night a week can increase health benefits and cut down on grocery costs. Try making Black Bean Tacos, Vegetarian Chili, or Indian Butter Chickpeas.

Interested in more tricks and tips?

Register for one of our training sessions, a Peer-to-Peer forum, or a Parent Nutrition Workshop.