Making Family Meals a Happy and Healthy Time
In this day and age, meals spent together are becoming few and far between. For some, a "family" meal may mean eating with friends or a caretaker, but there is still value and tradition in the idea of bringing people together for a meal. Busy schedules often result in making "fast food" choices due to the idea that time is limited by school, work, errands, appointments, and after-school programs. Children and parents may be finding themselves with less and less time to prepare or participate in a healthy meal.
In addition to less time being spent together as a family, looming health concerns (diabetes, obesity, hyperlipedemia, etc.) are continually reinforcing the importance of healthy meals. There appears to be a connection between parents who prepare and consume healthy meals and foods in front of their children and children's likelihood to continue these healthy habits later in life. Some research has indicated that shared family meals are more likely to be nutritious and children who eat often with their families are less likely to make unhealthy snack choices and consume more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
This month, focus on 1) planning healthy meals, 2) eating more meals a week as a family, 3) preparing a healthy meal even if it is only for oneself, and 4) enjoying the process and the time spent with others involved in the meal. During the warmer months, take advantage of social time together and plan a picnic using the recipe below for "picnic-safe" potato salad.
Most adults know that a healthy family meal can be priceless; the concern is finding the time. For starters, determine how many meals are currently being consumed as a family and how many of the food choices are healthy. Make a realistic goal for the number of meals to share during the coming week, taking into account everyone's schedules. Then review the barriers that are preventing healthy meals and meals eaten together. Select one or two barriers (such as no supplies in the house or too little time) and brainstorm solutions as a group. Then plan healthy meals by preparing a grocery list based on meals that will be prepared the following week, and begin to store supplies that can be used for quick, healthy meals. Plan the cooking process ahead of time to make sure time does not become the barrier, or prepare parts of meals earlier in the week and freeze or chill them. Keep frozen vegetables in stock, and for a quick meal, add them to whole-wheat pasta. Plan to have a variety of food temperatures, textures, and colors presented on each plate. For example, include a green or orange vegetable and whole-grain starch, along with a protein (3-ounce serving) and a red or blue fruit.
Once the plan is in place, begin preparing meals and have fun! Involve the whole family by encouraging younger children to watch during preparation and educating them verbally on what is being done (adding, warming, dicing, and cleaning). Older children may be able to offer more assistance, or can sit in while they do their homework. Children can also practice pouring beverages, folding napkins, setting the table, or tossing the salad. Teenagers can prepare meals, as well. Make it fun by planning to have a teenager cook his or her favorite meal one evening per week. Remember to be upbeat while preparing meals and to thank children, friends, caretakers, and spouses for their assistance. Keep the environment fun and demonstrate how a family can work together and enjoy the process of preparing and consuming healthy meals.
Now sit down, relax, and enjoy the meal! Create a calm moment prior to eating, allowing everyone to change gears from arriving home, preparing the meal, changing out of work/school clothes, feeding the pets, etc., to make the meal a non-stressful event. Use this pre-meal time to wish everyone a good meal. Eat as a group whenever possible; for example, even if you have younger children that need to eat dinner earlier at times to accommodate early bedtimes, sit with them and talk about the day. Ask them to count out the vegetables on their plate or if they know how many ounces of chicken were used to prepare the meal. Focus on the food and the company during the meal, discussing activities in which everyone is involved, and teaching and reinforcing good manners. Meal time should be a time where everyone feels together, connected, and a part of the family. Keep the interactions and conversations positive and give everyone a chance to speak.
Enjoy time together this summer and take advantage of planning healthy meals for every body. Below are some quick and healthy ideas:
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbs dried parsley
- 6 chicken breasts (boneless and skinless)
- Combine butter, sauce, and powder.
- Combine bread crumbs, cheese, and parsley in another bowl.
- Dip chicken thoroughly in the liquid and then dredge the chicken through the bread crumbs.
- Place chicken in a single layer in a baking pan (for easy cleanup, line with aluminum foil).
- Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
- Serve with broccoli, salad, and brown rice.
Summer Potato Salad
- 14 small new red potatoes (washed and scrubbed)
- 6 Tbs green onion*, chopped
- 4 Tbs red onion, chopped
- 3 Tbs fresh chopped parsley
- 2 tsp dill
- 1 large red pepper, chopped
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Boil potatoes, just until tender. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes, and then cut in half.
- Combine onion, parsley, dill, and red pepper. Mix gently.
- Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and pepper (dressing) in a small bowl.
- Combine potatoes with onions, parsley, dill, and red pepper, and then toss lightly while adding dressing.
- Chill completely before serving and keep cool.
- Recipe does not include mayonnaise; therefore it's safe to take on a picnic.
- *Note: if onions are not preferred, substitute celery.
Quick and Easy Tacos
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- 12 taco shells, 6 corn tortillas or 4 flour tortillas
- 3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
- 1 cup salsa
- Chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and onions for toppings
- 1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
- Cook onion and garlic in oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes or until onion is tender and somewhat transparent.
- Add ground beef or turkey; cook about 5 minutes, breaking up large pieces, until meat/turkey is no longer pink.
- Add chili powder, paprika, cilantro, and pepper; heat until hot.
- For tacos, heat taco shells in toaster oven for 2 to 3 minutes or until hot. Spoon 2 tablespoons filling into each taco shell.
- For tortillas, microwave tortillas on High about 30 seconds each in order to soften. Spoon about 1/4-1/3 cup filling down the center of each tortilla.
- Top tacos or tortillas with cheese, salsa, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, avocado, and sour cream.
- Roll tortillas around filling.