Meal plans: How 4 families are keeping it fresh while cooking more at home

In these times of “sheltering in place” and “social distancing,” families are finding ways to reinvent their lives. This includes cooking more meals at home! Families are not only cooking together but also eating meals together again, at the dinner table.

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As recently as a month ago, most of us rarely cooked at home. In fact, the number who do has been steadily declining for decades. In 2016, for the first time, more families’ budgets earmarked for food and beverages was going to restaurants rather than to traditional grocery stores. And recent studies have shown that fewer than 20% of Americans say they like to cook. But mostly, people are ambivalent because they have never learned.

So how do you make meals at home day after day after day as this quarantine continues? How do you please everyone in a family that has become accustomed to eating out for most every meal? And if cooking seems complicated, how can you learn and teach your kids at the same time?

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Involving the kids in cooking is a sure way to convince them to try something new. You can keep it simple, for example, by browning ground turkey or beef, adding taco seasoning and letting the kids choose the fixings for a fun taco night. Add soft and hard taco shells, shredded cheese and lettuce, sour cream, salsa, and guacamole. Or be creative and make your tacos with grilled chicken or fish filets that you cut into smaller pieces. Big kids can help stir the meet and chop. Little kids can assemble all the ingredients in bowls and set the table.

Those same soft tortillas can be used for wraps that make terrific lunches for kids. Check out for some unique wrap recipes that are sure to please everyone and are easy for kids to make, like Peanut Butter Granola Pinwheels and Chicken and Bacon Rollups.

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Monica Deal, a LexisNexis employee now working from home with her husband and two young children, Miles and Miro, said her air fryer has been a real lifesaver.

“I love to cook anything,” Deal said. “But the air fryer has been a game changer to cooking at home, especially now. We have cooked more than 40 meals at home now and we’ve made everything from whole chickens to crispy wontons and even corn dogs and fries.”

Some large families have turned dinner time into a friendly competition, assigning appetizers, main dishes and desserts to family “teams.” Each team chooses a recipe and the entire family tastes each one and chooses a “winner” — though according to families who have tried this, everyone ends up winning.

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Amy Graham, a home-bound American Heart Association employee, said meal planning at least a week of dinners has helped her tremendously.

“Everyone gets to choose one meal on the list,” said Graham, mom to Anthony and Conner. “And there are always veggies included in every meal.”

Molly Barker of Centerville also relies on meal planning and includes her two kids, Brinly and Jace.

“We all pitch in to help make meals,” Barker said. “The crazy thing is we went from rarely eating together and only cooking at home a few meals a week to this.”

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If you are a beginner at cooking and need a little help, there are plenty of online resources that are free and easy to use. Allrecipes, Yummly and even YouTube feature video recipes that make the steps of cooking a meal easier to follow. The Food Wishes YouTube channel is among the most popular food-related channels. Host Chef John (who lives in San Francisco) promises to make two or three new recipes weekly designed to help people learn to cook (and make them smile). He has recently added “Shelter in Place” live chats.

“Empty nesters” who are sheltering in place as a couple are also finding time to cook more at home.

“It’s just us and our dog, Blossom,” said Sandie Geib of Springboro. “But I love our grill and our smoker. I’m also using our Instapot a lot!”

Don’t forget to ask your personal assistant, Alexa, Google or Siri for help. All three can help you in the kitchen, from creating grocery lists to suggesting recipes for ingredients you already have on hand. Amazon has partnered with Buzzfeed’s Tasty recipe site, allowing Alexa to read recipes, offering complete hands-free cooking and videos on devices like Amazon Echo Show. Google also reads and shows the steps for recipes on its Google Home Hub. Apple’s Siri will also add ingredients to a grocery list and can read recipes to you if you add them ahead of time to its Notes app.

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