By Jennifer Benedetto MS, RD, LC CNSC
Clinical Dietitian at LMC
Along with the start of the school year, come homework and extra curricular activities. Helping your child with nightly assignments and carting them to their next practice leave little time for actually preparing and eating an evening meal together. But the benefits of family mealtimes are well known.
Besides being a great opportunity to provide a healthy, well-balanced meal, family dinners improve adolescent well being by decreasing the incidence of disordered eating. Family meals also decrease the chance that your child will become overweight. Children and adolescents who partake in a family meal have less depressive symptoms, greater academic achievement and more positive family interactions. The most positive benefits are seen when 3 or more meals are eaten together. But with a busy schedule, how is this feasible?
• Keep it simple. Family meals need not be complicated. Forgo recipes with long lists of ingredients and stick to basic staples. A favorite in my house is “taco” night using lots of fresh veggies, grilled chicken, black beans and cheese made with 2% milk.
• Double up. When preparing meat, rice or pasta, cook double. Grilled chicken breasts can be used for salads, pasta or stir fries, so load up the grill. Browned ground turkey can also go the extra mile in tacos, burritos, or casseroles. Pasta can be served warm with sauce or cold as a pasta salad.
• Prep ahead. Use the weekend to wash and prepare vegetables for weekday meals. Seeing the brightly colored vegetables in your refrigerator will encourage you to grab them and go. Serve them raw, stir fried, sautéed or grilled. Your family will love the fresh flavor!
• Enlist help. Children that assist with menu planning are more likely to eat what is served. When it comes to meal preparation, have everyone strap on their aprons and pitch in by doing age appropriate activities. Young children can assist with washing vegetables. Elementary age children can set the table or stir sauces or stews.
• Shop early in the week and avoid multiple trips. Organize the week’s menu early and make a shopping list. Keep staples like brown rice and whole wheat pasta on hand. Last minute trips to the grocery store are wasteful and time consuming.
With teamwork and advanced planning, your family can soon reap the benefits of shared meals!
: thefamilydinnerproject.org; “Do family meals make a difference?” by Eliza Cook and Rachel Dunifon of Cornell University