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Fast, Stress-Free Family Dinners at Home

healthy dinner
Colorful dinner, photo by Daria Shevtsova via

Deciding what to make for dinner every night is such a chore and a boring bore that nobody in their right mind wants to do it. I sometimes ask what everyone in my family wants to eat and suddenly nobody can recall a single meal they’d like to see in front of them at dinnertime. Blank stares look back at my inquisitive face.

Lately I have been announcing to anyone who will listen how much I hate cooking but I’m not sure how accurate that assertion is.  I don’t think that’s truly the problem. I think the issue I have is it takes so much effort coming up with an idea about what to serve that the actual cooking part feels like it’s so much worse. After all, if I spend an hour in the morning planning out the menu, then I have already given a full hour to a task I don’t enjoy. Add in the grocery shopping and the actual cooking part, and I’m probably up to two-and-a-half hours for a single daily meal.

Every morning, before discovering a new way to figure out what’s for dinner, I used to begin the arduous task of sorting through endless cookbooks and websites like Food Network and All Recipes dot com in order to come up with some idea as to what food to prepare for my family.

I subscribed to various cooking magazines and then gave up on them since many of the magazines publish the same recipes on their sites for free.

After finding what I am willing to make, then it’s time to look at the recipe, verify I have the ingredients on hand, and if I don’t have the ingredients, then the missing item gets written on a shopping list. I then have to drive to the grocery store, buy the food, and bring it home.

I could plan a week at a time but that would mean planning a whole week! I don’t possess those kind of advanced homemaking skills.  I run my home by the seat of my pants, and that’s how I like it!

The Good Ole Days

I remember when I was younger and I used to pore over the month-long menu of meals provided by Good Housekeeping Magazine. I couldn’t wait to have a family and make them all the delicious looking casseroles, soups, stews, and meals laden with mayonnaise, butter, flour, processed canned soups, Pillsbury Pop ‘n Fresh rolls, and Ranch or Thousand Island dressing the menu suggested. I truly thought these mouth-watering meals would show my family how much I loved them.

When I think about those menus now, I cringe–they were nothing but glorified fast food. Sure, I love making chunky grilled cheeses and canned tomato soup every once in a while but nothing that unhealthy makes it onto the family dinner table more than a couple times a month. I also substitute the organically made tomato soup not stored in a can.

The Good Housekeeping menus were crammed with excess salt, artery clogging fat, added sugars, and enough white flour to put any bakery to shame.  I’m fairly certain they no longer publish a full month of recipe ideas but I must admit I’m not a subscriber.

The Dinner Solution for 2018 and Beyond

So, what’s a mother to do (or anyone, for that matter) when it comes to deciding what to make for dinner? I present to you a menu service I have used for years, and can recommend in order to save your sanity. They certainly saved mine.

A menu service is different from companies like Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh.  The biggest difference is the only thing you’ll get from a menu service is a list of ideas.  There’s no food in a box that will show up at your front door.  You simply download the weekly plan and then you have to go buy the ingredients and prepare the food.

The menu service I recommend is The Fresh 20. The Fresh 20 was started by Melissa Lanz after she realized how much she and her family were wasting on fast food and dinners out. I know how shocking that can be. At one point, after my husband lost his job, we started paying attention to the budget. We added up what we were paying to eat out (a family of 5, mind you), and it was easily over $1000 per month. With the loss of his income, that lavish spending had to stop.

The Fresh 20 picks 20 ingredients each week and provides recipes for 5 dinners. They have various menu/meal options for those who have special dietary needs like gluten-free, kosher, paleo, vegetarian, and they even have plans for singles.

What I love best about The Fresh 20 is when they call for a certain herb or spice, it’s used time and time again. The spice doesn’t sit on my cabinet shelf but is incorporated into many future recipes. I remember the first time I bought Herbs de Provence for one of the recipes. I thought, “Great, another something to put into my spice cupboard that will never see the light of day again until I throw it out,” but Lanz’s recipes called for Herbs de Provence so often that not only did I go through that whole bottle, I had to buy another!

I personally have subscribed to the vegetarian, the classic, and the Paleo meal plans and have been very happy with each. There’s clear instructions for those who want to get all their meal prepping done early. The plan comes with a weekly meal prep outline as well as a daily meal prep. Also included is the complete shopping list. Did I mention the recipes only include fruits and vegetables that are in season? That makes it easier to find the ingredients at a lower cost. No more hunting around a grocery store for a summer vegetable in the winter.

I’ve made many of the recipes over the years and they’ve all turned out beautifully. Some recipes used vegetables we’ve never had before like spaghetti squash. I was certain that nobody would eat it but I made it anyway because I was determined to make every meal on the plan. The squash recipe was a total hit! I also learned how to cook a butternut squash and have made so many over the years.

Education + new veggies = better health through increased variety

The cost of The Fresh 20 is really low, too, especially for someone like me whose biggest complaint about dinner is spending so much wondering what to make. The monthly payment option is $14 or you can pay for the full year for $74. Obviously the $74 annual fee is the way to go—the total ends up being less than half of the monthly option.

Every once in a while, The Fresh 20 has their bi-annual Mind/Body Reset. With this program, you get all three meals plus a snack for 21 days, the recipes on how to make them, the prep sheet, the shopping list, a Facebook group, and information about living more healthfully. The Mind/Body Reset helps get you away from sugar, gluten, and other things not good for your health, and puts you back on track toward better health. Eating whole foods is the name of the game. Some of the recipes I’ve enjoyed from past resets include cinnamon pear oatmeal, zucchini lasagna, avocado tomato salad, and chia pudding. Everything was so delicious and I felt great after completing the reset. I’m sure I’m due for another reset really soon! (NOTE:  the resets are an additional fee on top of the monthly or annual payment, although it’s a fairly low cost program–especially if you sign up right when Melissa sends out the invitation to join the reset).

Although I would prefer to go out to dinner every single night, I know it’s not financially feasible, nor is it healthy for anybody to subject themselves to so much sodium, sugar, fat, and artificial ingredients.  It’s best to eat most meals at home.  With that in mind, I highly recommend The Fresh 20 to give everyone a break on deciding what’s for dinner.

No more stressful mornings at my house, just flavorful family dinners everyone enjoys.


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