Experts offer meal ideas

Posted August 14, 2008

Meal-planning isn’t just about dinner. You have to keep the family fueled practically from sunup to sundown.

“Each of those three meals presents its own challenges,” says Suzanne Havala Hobbs, a faculty member and registered dietitian at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health.

Here are some suggestions from the experts on ways to tackle the different dilemmas presented by the three big meals of the day.


Let’s face it, for the most important meal of the day, breakfast also can be the most rushed and the least thought-out. Key suggestions: cook ahead and keep it simple.

Alicia Ross, a nationally syndicated food columnist and co-author of three Desperation Dinner cookbooks, suggests muffins and quick breads that can be made in batches and frozen. Smoothies and granola customized to your family’s taste are also at the top of her list.

Hobbs’ focus also is on quick and nutritious – fruit, instant oatmeal without artificial colors or flavors, string cheese and complex carbohydrates like whole wheat breads and cereal.

Liz Edmunds, owner of Food Nanny, suggests finding some favorite breakfasts and rotating them through the week.


Fueling bodies through the second half of the day while avoiding the dreaded bag-lunch food rut takes its own kind of planning.

“Finding out what they want is three-quarters of the battle,” Ross says.

Favorite leftovers are an option, depending on the ability to reheat, she says. For variety, try options like pita points with veggies and hummus.

Hobbs encourages rethinking lunch. It doesn’t have to be built around a sandwich. Maybe fruit salad or peanut butter crackers could be at the center of the meal, or try an individual serving of soup with veggies and dip.

"It’s OK to bring a little collection of favorite foods,” she says.


Planning, planning – did someone say planning? – is the key to dinner.

Ross is so prepared that she even has a backup meal that she prepares when things haven’t gone as planned. She always has the ingredients for it, the recipe is taped to the inside of a cabinet door so she doesn’t have to look for it and she tries only to use that particular meal in a true dinner emergency.

Hobbs emphasizes simple, as well as healthy, shortcuts. Dress up prepackaged salads, rice- and pasta-based meals, packaged vegetables and baked potatoes to form the basis for quick, nutritious dinners.

Along with themes, Edmunds emphasizes using mealtime for conversation. Her book includes suggestions for conversation starters along with recipes. Although the meal may be simple, “It’s a party because it’s conversation every night.”

And even if the family can’t be together for dinner, taking the time to sit down and talk with each person when he or she gets home to eat means a lot.


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