By Dana Boler
September is National Family Meals Month. This month is a busy time for many as we are back in full swing of school schedules, practices, and other responsibilities. For many, getting the entire family to sit down for a meal can be difficult.
Whether you have a family of two or ten, there are many benefits to eating together as a family at least four times a week.
According to the American Dietetic Association, family meals lead to the consumption of more nutritious foods, more fruits and vegetables, and less saturated fats/calories.
By cooking healthier meals at home rather than eating on-the-go fast food options, you are decreasing your risk of becoming obese and other health risks. It is important to be a positive role model for your children and eat a wide variety of nutritious foods.
Other research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse shows that children who eat more meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink, or use other drugs. Studies also show children have higher grades, better attendance, and fewer behavior issues at school.
One of the most important reasons to eat together as a family is that it leads to better self-esteem and lower anxiety/depression in children and adults. The bonding and communication over meals leads to a sense of belonging and better relationships within family members. It is very important that everyone feels supported at home and are comfortable discussing different topics.
So, how can you enjoy more family meals? Here are a couple of tips to create a more positive meal-time experience for all.
1.Start small, if evenings are often hectic, commit to adding one more meal throughout the week. This can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner-whatever works best for your family! Schedule it on the calendar and make it a priority.
2.Focus more on quality time rather than an elaborate meal. Don’t stress over the actual meal-simple works! A fun idea is to have set weekly dinner themes. Examples include, Breakfast for Dinner, Pasta Night, Taco Tuesdays, Child Choice Dinner, Pizza Night, Restaurant Choice Night, Dining-In Night, Children Cook Night, New Recipe Night, Family Favorite Night, and Sandwich Creation Night. Don’t forget to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and national food days. Get creative and get ideas from members of your family. By having weekly dinner themes set, planning is less stressful. Put the meal themes on your calendar and talk about them before the week.
3.Get everyone involved. Prepare grocery lists, go shopping, and prepare dinners together as a family. There is a task for everyone! (Don’t forget about clean-up too!)
4.Get creative. Think outside the dinner table. Try eating your meals outside, eating on the living room floor, pack a picnic and bring to the park, tailgate at a sports game, or go out to dinner at a local establishment.
5.Put away the phones and shut off the TV. It is important to really connect with each other. Besides the typical “how was your day?” try some fun question prompts (Google “family dinner questions”). Write your favorites on index cards, popsicle sticks, or write on paper and keep them in a jar. Have one person select a question and then go around the table so that everyone answers it. Try to avoid questions with a one-word answer. (How was your day? Did you have fun at school? Did your meeting go well?)
Some open-ended question ideas- How were you kind to someone today? Who is one person you are thankful for and why? Tell me what made you smile/laugh today. What makes you a good friend? What do you want to be when you grow up and why? What was your favorite family vacation and why? Where is your favorite place to be and why? If you could eat only one food for a week, what would it be and why? Tell me about your dreams last night. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why? If you could choose anyone to eat dinner with, who would it be and why? Tell me about your biggest fear. What would you buy with a million dollars? If you could travel to anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? Would you rather be a fish or a lion, why? Would you rather be super strong or super fast, why? What is your favorite smell and why? If you could turn into mom or day for the day, who would you choose and why?
A family favorite recipe of ours that is very simple, delicious, and healthy is Panko Chicken:
Preheat oven to 375. Coat a baking dish with olive oil spray.
Start with thawed chicken breasts (however many you need) and coat the top of each with Mayo or Miracle Whip (I use light miracle whip).
Once coated, sprinkle with Panko crumbs.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until 165 degrees in the center and lightly browned on top.
Pair with roasted vegetables, salad, and brown rice. Enjoy!
*I’d love to hear of any nutrition topics you’d like to learn more about to feature in future columns.
Dana Boler is a mom of two boys and a wife on a mission to help others become their best self. She is a Certified Health Coach with a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics. Her practice, B Your Best Wellness Coaching is personalized Health Coaching with mental health, physical activity, and nutrition in mind.
Follow her for more health-related posts on Instagram and Facebook at B Your Best Wellness Coaching and to inquire about Health Coaching.