Feed the family right

Suzanne Farrell
The Denver Post
preparing food
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Question: You’re always running these healthy recipes and stories about how eating more fruits and vegetables is the way to go, but honestly, I come home from working a 10-hour day and I can barely work up enough energy to open a big can of vegetable soup for my kids, let alone make some big, 20-ingredient meal. Is there a way to eat better without having to do so much more work?

— Ginny R., Littleton

Registered dietitian Suzanne Farrell answers: You are definitely not alone on this one. Healthy eating is not just about knowing what to eat — but how. Preparing a healthy and balanced weeknight family dinner can be challenging after a long day; and as I always say, as the sun goes down, so can all good dietary intentions!

Planning ahead is truly the key, and my favorite quote that pertains to this exact issue is: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” If we don’t plan ahead and put in just a little time beforehand, the fatigue from the day sets in, and we may not have the time or patience. But rest assured it can be done — and while it does take some time to eat healthy, the benefits make it truly worth it.

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Here are some tips that can help:

Plan weeknight dinners ahead. Carve out some time over the weekend to plan some easy and healthy dinners for the week. Plan for about four or five specific weeknight meals along with a “wild card” night for leftovers or to use up what you already have in the house from the week. To break it down even more, plan around weeknight themes (i.e., fish night, vegetarian night, soup night, stir-fry night, breakfast for dinner night or ethnic night).

Be your own sous chef ahead. The hardest part about getting the meal together after a long day of work is the prep, and produce can take the longest. So just take that step out of the equation and do it before the week even starts. When you buy your produce, slice and dice it right away and put it in glass or clear containers or zipper bags placed front and center in the refrigerator. This way it is ready to go.

Consider buying pre-cut veggies to save on time, such as broccoli flowerettes, pre-washed and cut baby spinach, baby carrots and bagged salad. If you eat chicken, clean and cut it up ahead time and freeze it in separate servings so that you can pull out just what you need in the morning.

Cook and freeze. Make soups or family favorites over the weekend and freeze so when you come home during the week all you have to do is reheat.

Keep it simple. It’s fun to try new recipes, but don’t get overly ambitious. Pick out no more than one per week to try, and do it on a night when everyone isn’t so rushed. Pull out spices in the morning or before going to bed and set ingredients aside in the refrigerator or the non-refrigerated ingredients on the counter so you’re ready to go when you get home.

Stock the freezer and pantry with healthy convenience foods. Have some healthy frozen options always on hand, such as frozen vegetables and fruits, chicken tenders or cutlets, edamame, shrimp, and fish fillets. In the pantry store instant brown rice, quinoa, whole grain couscous, whole grain pasta, tomato sauce and a variety of canned beans.

Suzanne Farrell is a registered dietitian and owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition. For healthy recipes, visit Farrell’s site “What’s for Dinner Tonight?” at

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