Between work, school and extracurricular activities, eating well as a family can be a challenge. We asked Williams-Sonoma associates (who also happen to be food lovers and parents to adorable kids like Fiona, above) to share their best tips for pulling off weeknight dinners and healthy lunches, all while staying creative in the kitchen. Here’s what they had to say.
What are some of your best tips for planning and executing weeknight family dinners?
Cook and prep for the week on Sunday. Do one braised meat, such as a pot roast, pork shoulder or chicken thighs, which allows multiple meals out of one protein. Use the braised meat in pasta, sandwiches, tacos or over rice.
Make one pasta; make a flavorful pasta on Sunday and set a pot of water on the stove before you leave for work.
Make one grill dish with thin cuts of meat like fish, chicken, steak or sausages, along with grilled vegetables and rice made in a rice cooker. Everything can be made in the same night.
Have an “upside-down day” where you serve breakfast for dinner, such as scrambled eggs, omelets or frittata with sauteed spinach, pepper, or leftover vegetables. Add toast and sausage.
Then, make soup and grilled cheese. Focus on bean, vegetable or meat-based soups with seasonal ingredients, and make a sandwich with different cheeses. Cut the sandwich into 1/2-inch cubes to turn them into croutons for the soup. — Peter Degnan, Product Development
What are your kids’ favorite meals (that you like, too)?
Chinese Chicken Salad, Chicken Pho, Mexican Casserole, Fish Tacos with Guacamole and Red Cabbage and Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce. We could pretty much put those 5 into a rotation and all 4 of us would be happy as clams. — Amanda Haas, Test Kitchen
Any tips for encouraging them to eat healthy foods?
Kids love bread, so I always make sure to buy whole wheat bread versus white bread to make sure I’m incorporating whole grains into their daily diet. And who doesn’t love looking at a colorful plate? I encourage my kids to make sure they have a variety of different colors on their plate for every meal, because it is very easy to fill an entire plate with yellow/brown foods. — Shannon Gomes, Public Relations
What lunches have your kids loved that surprised you?
Chopped salads. I always put the dressing in a little container so they don’t get soggy. — Amanda Haas
What do you pack in your kids’ lunch boxes?
Fruit is always a staple item, whether it’s bananas, apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries or raspberries. I also always include a snack item such as cheddar bunnies, pretzels, veggie sticks or pita chips. For a dairy item, it’s either cheese or yogurt. For the main course, I typically include a turkey whole wheat sandwich, quesadilla, burrito or pasta. — Shannon Gomes
How do you shop for groceries – every day, or on the weekend?
Sunday morning or afternoon. If doing baguette sandwiches, I pick up a fresh baguette the night before. — Peter Degnan
What are some of your favorite pantry staples to help you create a meal?
We always have pasta and rice around, as its so easy to make a quick sauce to go with it. Since I usually don’t get home in time to prepare the meals for my family, I make things on the weekend that can be reheated during the week. We do things like a stew, or pasta sauces, or anything that freezes well. Our favorite family meals are braises in the winter (like short ribs and mashed potatoes), pasta carbonara and grilled chicken with a salad. — Russ Dailey, Graphics Design
A good jarred marinara sauce, pasta, rice, corn and flour tortillas, dried beans and lentils, organic frozen pizza and frozen naan. — Peter Degnan
I plan for the week, then let the kids pick which nights we make each dish. They love to feel like they have a little control. — Amanda Haas
A combination of both. We have some family favorite meals that we all crave, but every now and then it’s fun to say — let’s go out for Thai food tonight! Again, I think it is so important to constantly expose your kids to all different cuisines and foods. After all, food is delicious and fun! — Shannon Gomes