Tara Bone, contributing writer

IT’S THE QUESTION every parent hears, every day of the year: “What’s for dinner?” You know it’s coming, and some days you’re prepared with a dazzling dinner sure to please the toughest pint-size critic, but some days you want to hide. And some days guilt seeps in when all you’ve got is a phone number for takeout.

In an effort to dazzle more and hide less, I added improving family meals to the top of my 2020 goal list. Food is serious business at our house. I spend a lot of time thinking about food because it seems to be the center of my boys’ lives. They’re not picky eaters, but they’re growing like weeds and I struggle to keep up.

If keeping up with your family’s appetite and improving meals are things you’re tackling in 2020, read on for tips from local parents to help you be successful.

Lisa and James Clawson, parents of five and owners of Great Harvest Bread Co. in Logan.

Most tips come from Lisa Clawson of Avon. Lisa is an all-things-food expert. She’ll say she’s not, but don’t let her fool you. Lisa is mom to five and she and her husband James own Great Harvest Bread Co. on Center Street in Logan. Besides running a busy household and helping with Great Harvest, Lisa teaches cooking classes at Love to Cook, has taught at Macey’s Little Theatre, has been a food blogger, and has appeared on KSL’s Studio 5.

Even Lisa says she gets in a “rut” when it comes to preparing family meals. Her number one food tip is not to get stuck worrying about what you’re eating, just that you’re bringing your family together.

“My mantra is we all eat dinner together, every night,” Lisa said. “It feeds your soul to be with loved ones around the table. If you can’t do it every night, do it as much as possible.”

She encourages parents to make small New Year’s resolutions in the kitchen that can be built upon over time. “Start where you are and slowly add new things to your routine,” she says.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

• Have a few tried and true recipes in your back pocket that you know are winners.

• Make your plate colorful! Prepare roasted vegetables and be surprised at what your kids like. Grab almost any veggie (i.e., sweet potatoes, green beans, beets, Brussels sprouts, squash), cut them up, drizzle with favorite oil and spices, and roast at 425 degrees until tender.

• Keep a pantry stocked with basic staples.

• Always have the basics for a fantastic salad on hand.

• Enlist the help of others. Lisa taught her 16-year-old son to make artisan bread and he makes it often (recipe on next page).

• Don’t be afraid to try new things! “Bake something that smells good, but if it turns out like a brick, it’s still hot and smells good,” Lisa said.

• Check out Pinterest and be specific on searches (for example, Sunday dinner recipes).

• Try taking a cooking class or exploring a new food blog.

• We all get in a food funk … ask your friends. Often Lisa asks women in her running group what they fixed for dinner to “stir an idea.”

• Use the freezer. When cooking, make multiples and freeze for later. (Broths, soups, lasagnas, enchiladas, and even pie crusts all freeze well.) “In one hour, you can have the best pie on the planet!” Lisa said.

• Set a specific time one day a week to do weekly meal plans.

• Batch cook. This means preparing large quantities of individual foods to be used during the week. You can do this with rice, quinoa, meat for salads, stir-fries, or grain bowls, for example.

• Shop with a list and give online grocery shopping a try.

• Remember to record favorite meals.

• Look through your pantry before shopping.

• Keep a variety of favorite spices and herbs on hand.

• Set a time each week or month to cook large quantities of meats, wheat berries, and/or beans and then freeze in smaller portions for quick use later.

• Wash and prepare fruits and vegetables as soon as purchased.

• Use a slow or pressure cooker.