The Importance of Family Meals
Eating has been bringing people together for many years. According to recent studies, family meals can benefit parents and children in the following ways:
- Allows parents to be role models
- Creates a supportive environment that encourages healthy eating
- Children are more likely to have an increased fruit and vegetable intake
- The entire family is likely to have healthier weights
- Children are less likely to have behavioral issues such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol when older
- Closer relationships
It may not be feasible for the whole family to eat dinner at the table every night, and that’s okay! Sometimes life gets in the way with busy schedules, meaning that “quick” is the best, especially on the weekends when there are sporting events and extracurricular activities going on. Know that if the reality is not being able to eat every meal as a family, that does not mean you are a failure or slacking! If this is something new for you, baby steps are key. Try implementing a routine to make at least two dinners per week a meal where everyone comes together as a family. If dinner is too much of a problem for the schedule, try getting everyone involved for breakfast instead!
Many families choose to get take-out since it may seem cheaper, quicker and more convenient than washing dishes, but cooking doesn’t have to be time-consuming! During the weekend or a day that you have free time, you can sit down as a family and come up with a “menu” for the following week. This means having an idea of what will be prepared throughout the week. You can base meals off ingredients you already have. If there are ingredients you may lack, you can always substitute it for ones you have available. This is always a good way to prevent foods from going bad, as well.
Kitchen Jobs for All
Another factor of coming together and eating as a family is minimizing the amount of meal preparation time. Give everyone a specific job to minimize time.
- Write out a grocery list
- Brainstorm meal ideas
- Set the table
- Help cook
You can also try adding fun nicknames to make it more appealing for the children, such as “Taste Tester” or “Mini Chef” to the one who helps with cooking. Rotate positions each week so that it won’t become a routine for younger children who may get bored quickly, but make sure each person is still given enough time to get exposure with all positions in the kitchen. You can always turn it into a game by writing out the titles on small pieces of paper, adding them all to a bowl, and allowing each person to draw their title for the week.
Here is a list provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics of age-appropriate activities for children in the kitchen:
- 3 to 5 years old: mix together simple ingredients, snap green beans, tear lettuce for a salad, press cookie cutters
- 6 to 7 years old: peel raw fruits and vegetables by hand, shuck corn, use a vegetable peeler, crack eggs, measure ingredients
- 8 to 9 years old: use a can opener, juice citrus fruits, check the temperature of foods with a thermometer, beat eggs, pound chicken on a cutting board
- Children ages 10 and older: slice or chop vegetables, boil potatoes, microwave foods, bake foods in the oven, simmer ingredients on the stove
Another great aspect of family mealtime is putting away all distractions, which means headphones, tablets, computers, phones, and yes, even homework! Get the whole family in the habit of designating this time solely as a time to come together and have no distractions at the table. This is a great way of practicing good tableside manners.
Good conversation starters include:
- “How did everyone’s day go?”
- “Does anybody have a fun project they are working on at school?”
- “What is the best experience that happened this week for you?”
- “Does anyone have a fun story from today/this week to share with the family?”
- “What food group do you like most on your plate tonight?” (Reference MyPlate)
Keep conversation starters as open-ended questions; that way, others can chime in and answer.
Maybe while planning a meal for Monday night over the weekend, you look at the calendar and realize that you have a ton of errands to run that evening and time will be an issue when planning dinner, so you decide on take-out that night. What about making a breakfast meal together with the family before school?
Have you ever heard about breakfast being the most important meal of the day? It is true! Try this quick and easy Garden Veggie Scramble to nourish your body with some vegetables first thing in the morning and to prevent fresh produce from going bad!
Garden Veggie Scramble
- 10 fresh eggs
- ½ cup broccoli florets, chopped
- ½ cup zucchini, diced
- ¼ cup onion of choice, diced
- ½ cup tomato, diced
- ½ cup spinach, fresh or frozen
- ½ cup low-fat mozzarella cheese or cheese of choice
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1) Spray large skillet with non-stick cooking spray and pre-heat on medium-high heat.
2) Add broccoli, zucchini and onion to the pre-heated skillet and sauté until tender, about 5-8 minutes. While the veggies are sautéing, crack and whisk eggs into a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper if desired.
3) Reduce heat to medium. Add in the eggs and let sit for about 1-2 minutes. Stir and let cook until right before eggs are fully cooked. Quickly add in tomatoes and spinach. Stir until spinach is wilted and eggs are fully cooked.
*Eggs have off-time cooking, so if you remove from heat when they don’t look quite finished, they will continue to cook!
4) Top the finished eggs with cheese, cilantro and avocado. Enjoy!
Don’t have broccoli or maybe you don’t like zucchini? Swap for what you have available to you! Variations are endless. Try different fresh herbs or spices according to your preference. Also, try purchasing your produce and eggs locally. Call your local Farmers Market for details on where or how to go about doing so.