Too often, busy schedules get in the way of families sitting down to dinner together.
Which is a shame, because studies have shown that families that eat together eat healthier foods. And children who eat more family meals generally do better in school.
But a bit of cooking and shopping smarts can make dining as a family much easier.
Start with a bit of planning. Spending a few minutes during the weekend planning quick-cooking or make-ahead meals for the week can eliminate much of the frantic last-minute rush to get dinner on the table.
Next, stock up on ready-made sides from the grocer. Good choices include frozen vegetable sides or bagged mixed salads. Even better, double the recipe next time you make a side and freeze half for another day.
For dessert, think fruit. Try chilled slices of mango, which you can find jarred and refrigerated in the produce section. For a special treat, serve the fruit with a scoop of low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
This recipe for vegetable-bean chili with whole-wheat couscous takes just 45 minutes to make (so don't be intimidated by the long ingredient list) and can be prepared up to three days ahead, or frozen up to three months.
The chili is vibrantly flavored and is hearty enough to appeal to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.If you prepare the chili ahead of time, wait to make the couscous until you are ready to serve it. The couscous takes just 5 minutes and involves nothing more than boiling water.
VEGETABLE-BEAN CHILI WITH WHOLE-WHEAT COUSCOUS
Start to finish: 45 minutes (25 minutes active)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups (about 1 medium) chopped onions
1 cup (about 2 stalks) chopped celery
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded, cut in a large dice
1/4 cup seeded and minced jalapenos (about 3 medium)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
14 1/2-ounce can dice tomatoes with juice
1 cup water
2 tablespoons cornmeal
Two 10-ounce boxes whole-wheat couscous
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium. Add onions, celery and green beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the red peppers, jalapenos, garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt, oregano and black pepper. Cook until the peppers begin to soften and the spices are fragrant, about 4 minutes.
Stir in chickpeas, kidney beans, tomatoes and their juice, and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cornmeal and simmer 1 minute longer.
Meanwhile, prepare the couscous according to package directions. When the couscous is ready, stir the cilantro and lime juice into the chili. Serve the chili over the couscous.
Nutrition information per serving: 499 calories; 5 g fat (1 g saturated); 2 mg cholesterol; 95 g carbohydrate; 18 g protein; 18 g fiber; 862 mg sodium.