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The Dinner Game Changer for Busy Families

By Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 03/26/15, 10:15AM EDT


Fast food can be a lifesaver in a pinch – but when it becomes the norm, it can have negative effects on the family

It’s 4:00pm, the kids are home from school and there’s 15 minutes to grab a snack and load up the hockey gear for the arena. But wait…it will be 7:30pm by the time we all get home from our activities. When are we going to fit in dinner? What do we have time to make? Drive through again?  Frozen meal? Or everyone fend for themselves?   

Practices and games over the dinner hour often leaves families running in different directions and eating on the fly. Fast food and convenience items can be a lifesaver in a pinch – but when it becomes the norm, it can have negative effects on everyone in the family. Parents often battle with excess weight put on during the hockey season from fast food and irregular meal times. Athletes and siblings miss out on much needed nutrients from whole grains and fresh vegetables found in home cooked nutritious meals. Last but not least, the forgotten element - family connection. The dinnertime is perhaps the most instrumental meal to keep families connected, especially for teenagers. Research has shown, teenagers who eat family meals at least 3x per week have significantly higher grades in school, better self esteem and less substance abuse (drugs and alcohol).       

How do working families with kids in sport make the family meal happen?   Plan ahead, Shop ahead, Cook ahead. Be ahead of the game. It can seem daunting to plan a weeks worth of meals, but you can start small with just a few days at a time. You’ll find you save time and money, while improving the health of the whole family. 

Here’s 3 easy steps to get started: 

  1. Make a list of all your family meals. Highlight the favorite pregame meals. It also helps to highlight fast meals for those busy days. 
  2.  Plan your dinner meals based on how much time you have to cook and when you have to be on the ice. Plan them at least 2 hours before ice time or immediately     afterwards. Highlight at least 3 meals the family can eat together.  Post the schedule and let everyone know which days are “Family Meal Nights”. You may even choose to enlist help with prep and allow your kids to build important cooking skills. 
  3. Make your grocery list from your plan stock up the fridge and always look for opportunities to double portions and freeze or cook ahead for busy nights. Ie: cook extra mashed potatoes to use for sheppards pie another night. 


Game Changing Ground Beef

The recipe is a game changer for busy families. Cook ahead this one versatile core ingredient and you can have a protein and vegetable packed meal on the table in less than 15 minutes. Using extra lean ground beef makes this suitable as a base for a pre-game meal – omit onions and garlic if you find them hard to digest. 

  • 4 pounds extra lean ground beef, fresh not previously frozen
  • 4 medium onions chopped
  • 4 large carrots peeled and chopped
  • 4 large stalks of celery chopped
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms washed and chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic salt  (or regular salt) 
  • 2 Tbs olive or canola oil


  1. Add 1 Tbs of oil to a large dutch oven or large fry pan over medium high heat.  Add all the chopped vegetables and cook stirring often until the onions begin to brown.  Season with 1 tsp of garlic salt. Empty cooked vegetables into another bowl and place empty pan back on heat. 
  2. Add second Tbs of oil and cook ground meat thoroughly until no longer pink. Drain fat. Season with second tsp of garlic salt. Add cooked vegetables to the meat and season as desired.
  3. Allow to cool and portion into separate 1 to 4 cup containers or small ziplock bags laid flat and stacked for freezing.  
    * ½ cup = 1 portion. Multiply according to appetite and number of family members.   

Makes about 16 cups.  Per ½ cup serving: 150Cal, 3g Carb, 6gFat, 2g Saturated Fat, 18g Protein, 1g Fibre, 220mg Sodium.  Canada’s Food Guide Servings: 1 Meat/Alternative, 1 Vegetable

GC Ground Beef Starting Line-up

Now that that meat is cooked, seasoned and portioned – you simply have to take it out of the freezer, warm it up and add your ingredients. 

  • Speedy Spaghetti: Heat GCGB in tomato sauce, add Italian spices and parmesan cheese to taste.  
  • Fast Tacos: Heat GCGB with taco seasoning and serve with tacos or tortillas along with lettuce, peppers, shredded cheese, avocado and salsa. 
  • Microwave Burritos: Line up 5-10 whole wheat tortillas and add 2tbs of freshly cooked GCGB along with any fillings of choice: shredded cheese, refried beans, salsa, cooked rice, chopped peppers. Roll tortillas and wrap in saran before stacking in the freezer.   When ready to eat, reheat in microwave for 1-2 minutes – eat as a snack or serve with salad, salsa and sour cream.   
  • Simple Sheppards pie: Mix 1cup beef broth, 1 tbs flour, 1 tsp worcestershire, 1 Tbs tomato paste.  Mix in 4 cups GCGB.  Add to bottom of a casserole dish, layer frozen corn (peas and carrots are good too) and top with mashed potatoes.  Sprinkle with paprika.  Heat at 350°F for 30 minutes or until heated through. 
  • Instant Chili: Mix 4 cups GCGB, 1 jar spaghetti sauce, 1 can drained rinsed kidney beans, 1 can baked beans (optional) and 1 tbs chili powder.  Heat on stove until bubbly. 


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About Heidi Smith

Heidi Smith is a Sport Dietitian and Head of Nutrition at the Health and Performance Centre at the University of Guelph.  She has worked alongside some of the worlds top hockey players including NHL, National, Olympic, Junior, and Rep. She is the author of the practical sport nutrition handbook entitled "Nutrition for the Long Run".  Heidi is also a mother of 3 rep hockey players and understands the demands faced by todays sport focused families.