Cooking How-to: Family-Friendly Food

The Food Network's popular star shares recipes and tips for preparing delicious, family-friendly dishes.
Family Cooking

Sometimes it can feel like an impossible task to prepare meals your family will enjoy, while also sticking to your healthy eating plan. Good news: You can have it both ways — and we have the recipes and tips to prove it.

Family meals should contain a healthy mix of complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans), lean protein and healthy fats (unsaturated oils, nuts and fish). We all strive for balanced meals but often struggle with pulling them together for the family night after night. By sticking with recipes built around familiar, easy-to-find ingredients such as lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, turkey (ground breast meat and the whole breast) and favorite dishes including baked casseroles (lasagna, macaroni and cheese), savory pasta dishes and hearty soups and salads, you're sure to have a healthy repertoire of ideas.

1. Go for crowd pleasers
To qualify as "family-friendly," food should appeal to all family members, including picky eaters and those with weight-loss or weight-maintenance goals in mind. And we mean the same food, not lots of individually prepared dishes. Meals should be delicious and healthy so everyone can dig in!

2. Cut as many corners as possible
Family meals shouldn't require a lot of work. The focus should be on quality time with your family, not face time with your stove or cutting board.

3. Think prep
Whatever you can do in advance will help you on days when time is tight. When chopping fresh vegetables (bell peppers, onions, celery, carrots), always chop extras and store them in zip-top bags in the freezer. Then, on busy nights you can pull these vegetables straight from the freezer and start cooking.

4. Plan make-ahead meals
Prepare and assemble casseroles, but instead of baking them right away, freeze them for a later date. Most casseroles will last up to six months in the freezer. Just thaw and bake when you've got a busy day planned.

5. Shape it up
To get kids to try new, healthy foods, try changing shapes: Bake individual meatloaves in muffin tins, thread fruits and vegetables on metal or wooden skewers, and cut vegetables into fun shapes (use cookie cutters) to decorate your children's plates.

6. Dip in
Kids love to dip, so serve fruits and vegetables with low-fat yogurt, low-fat sour cream and low-fat ranch dressing on the side to encourage reluctant eaters.

Crowd pleasers
Here are some of our favorite family recipes, including a few that sneak vegetables into the mix in case anyone in your house doesn't like to eat them:

Free Newsletter Get it now