Knit Your Family Together with National Family Meals Month
September is National Family Meals Month, which encourages families across the nation to take the pledge to eat one extra meal together at home a week! With busy school and activity schedules, it can be hard to find time to sit down as a family, but research supports its benefits! Studies show again and again the significant, measurable scientific proof about the positive, life-long benefits of family meals! Check out these statistics from the Food Marketing Institute:
- Regular family meals are linked to higher grades and self-esteem and delayed sexual activity.
- Children who grow up sharing family meals are more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior as adults, such as sharing, fairness and respect.
- With each additional family meal shared each week, adolescents are less likely to show symptoms of violence, depression and suicide, less likely to use or abuse drugs or run away, and less likely to engage in risky behavior or delinquent acts.
- Adults and children who eat at home more regularly are less likely to suffer from obesity.
- Increased family meals are associated with greater intake of fruits and vegetables.
In a smartphone, tablet driven world it can be hard to connect to each other, but teaching kids (and parents) to put the electronics down and sit together can help build relationships and open doors of communication. Not to mention, getting kids involved in the dinner process can also help them learn to like more nutrient-rich foods.
Now, we know knitting this all together can be hard, but here are 5 tips to make family meals a little easier to make happen:
Plan Ahead and Keep It Simple
Family meals don’t mean you have to slave 3 hours in the kitchen! Having a week planned in advance can help make day-to-day dinner easier. Keep some staples in your house that you can call upon when needed. Things like rice, quinoa, beans and canned veggies can easily be thrown into casseroles, soups and more!
Leftovers are always an option. If you make a meal one night, it can be easy to use the main part of the dish again and just throw a different side with it.
Also, consider freezing foods. If you know your family loves a certain dish, make double and freeze it then bam, you're ready for next week!
Mix and Match
Decide what staples you might use, like a rotisserie chicken or ground beef, and determine what meals you can make with it. Maybe you use ground beef to make tacos, sliders and spaghetti or rotisserie chicken to make a pasta, use in a casserole and top a pizza. One cooking event for three meals.
Have eggs, bread and fruit? Great, breakfast for dinner can be an easy way to match some kitchen staples and make an easy, pleasing meal. Kids love change, so breakfast for dinner might be a fun change-up for the whole family - kids and Chef Mama!
Convenience Can Be a Good and Okay Thing
Let’s face it, sometimes the schedule doesn’t go as planned. But good news, most grocery stores have great meal kits and solutions for busy families! The better news? It is 100% okay to use those and not feel guilty about it! Even meal kits you can order on-line can help you get the job done faster.
Steam-in-the-bag veggies are a great staple and can also be a game changer for time and reducing waste. Throwing a veggie in the microwave a few minutes can help fuel your family without the added chopping and sauteeing work. It gets the job done!
Invite Your Littlest Dinner Guests to be Your Sous Chefs
Research shows that getting kids involved in the cooking and preparing process gives them ownership in the meal and more likely to eat what you are making. Things as simple as putting ingredients on a salad, stirring the macaroni or putting fruit in a bowl can all get them involved.
Family meals also give kids an opportunity to try foods over and over. Research suggests that kids often have to be offered a food up to 10 times before they like it or agree to eat it. Making veggies and other foods various ways can open the door for kids to keep trying foods at home, ideally helping them choose those foods later in life.
Start Simple With MyPlate
MyPlate is a great blueprint to use when planning family meals. It can help you include all the food groups to nourish your family.
There are lots of ways to mix and match my plate to keep it from getting boring. Here are a few to get you going:
- Whole grain pasta with chicken, steam-in-the-bag green beans, sliced fruit and milk
- Tacos on whole wheat tortillas with lean ground beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and a side of corn with strawberry yogurt parfaits for dessert
- Whole wheat quesadillas with chicken and cheese and an avocado yogurt dip, raw baby carrots (also can be a dippable) and apple slices with caramel drizzle for dessert
Remember, family meals don’t have to be restaurant quality, the basics can help feed your family and open up a door for more quality time and developing lasting relationships.
Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD