Nutritionist offers tips on how to make cooking for the family more fun

Note: This one in a series of stories from the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department in recognition of National Nutrition Month.

By Trish Unruh

If cooking for your family feels like drudgery, my advice is to keep it simple and include the kids.

The key is to be realistic about how much time you have to cook and to stock up on ingredients you can put together quickly.

Remember meals can be very simple:

• Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with milk, fruit, and vegetables to dip.

• Have breakfast for dinner — Toasted waffle with yogurt and fruit (fresh, canned packed in juice, or unsweetened frozen fruit) and scrambled eggs.

• Take you favorite canned soup and add extra frozen vegetables from the freezer or rinsed canned vegetables. Serve with whole crackers or a sandwich.

• Quesadillas with canned refried beans, cheese and vegetables. Peek in your vegetable drawer and be creative.

• When you have spaghetti with tomato sauce throw in some frozen vegetables to add nutritional value without extra time.

If you are looking for inexpensive, easy meals, I suggest visiting the website “Spend Smart Eat Smart.” It offers planning tips and videos on how to prepare meals if you do not have much practice in the kitchen. There’s even a video on how to make healthy macaroni and cheese using a box mix.

Three-year-old Preeti Terrazas takes a bite of "Skillet Macaroni" during a cooking demonstration at the Health Department.

Three-year-old Preeti Terrazas takes a bite of "Skillet Macaroni" during a cooking demonstration at the Health Department. by Karrey Britt

Simple meals can take time if you do it all on your own, so ask the kids for help. It’s important to include them while they are still young enough to be enthusiastic about helping. Even preschoolers can set the table, wash vegetables, mix ingredients and clean up. As children grow older, they can be a huge help in the kitchen and, hopefully, they will develop healthy cooking and eating habits for life.

To add more enjoyment to the cooking experience, put together a family cooking playlist. Each family member gets to add music to the list. Everyone can sing along and have fun!

— Trish Unruh is nutritionist at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. She works in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program, commonly called WIC.


Marilyn Hull 5 years, 6 months ago

Thanks, Trish. These are great tips.

Another thing kids like is finger foods. It's sort of like a Lunchable, but healthier. Bite sized portions of lean meats and/or cheese, grapes, berries, baby carrot sticks, etc. with a few whole grain crackers.

Child Care Aware of Eastern Kansas 5 years, 6 months ago

“Thank you for sharing and including the great meal ideas! Produce is always a yummy and healthy snack. Now is a great time to start a garden with children, too. Teaching them hands-on about where their food comes from makes mealtimes more exciting and encourages them to try new foods.

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