Family Meals: Small Investment, Big Payoff

By Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN
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If you're concerned about what your child does (and doesn't) eat, the solution could be as close as your kitchen table. "Gathering around the table to eat as a family has all kinds of benefits," says Jessica Crandall, RDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Family meals allow parents to be role models that create a supportive environment that promotes healthy eating." Family meals don't just mean better nutrition. Children of families who regularly eat together are also less likely to be obese, have behavior problems or use drugs, cigarettes or alcohol when they get older. Plus, they're closer with their parents. No wonder family meals are on the upswing. The American Dietetic Association's (now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) 2010 report, The State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity: Are We Making Progress?, reports that 73 percent of families eat at home every day compared to just 52 percent in 2003.

To make more family meals happen in your home try these easy-to-follow tips:

  • Keep it simple: "Don't choose a recipe for disaster by deciding to make something that calls for 20 different ingredients," says Crandall. Instead build a small collection of go-to recipes that can help you get in and out of the kitchen in under a half an hour.
  • Choose ingredients that multitask: Ingredients you can use for more than one meal can be a major time savor. "It doesn't take any longer to grill four chicken breasts than two," says Crandall. "Use the leftovers for chicken salad or fajitas the next day."
  • Just say no to take out: A trip to the drive thru might seem like a speedy way to get dinner on the table, but it could be adding to your family's waistline. A 2011 Journal of the American Dietetic Association study that looked at the link between takeout and overweight in families found that eating just one weekly takeout or fast food meal increased adolescents' odds of becoming overweight or obese roughly two-fold and more than doubled these odds for their parents.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help: You may not realize it but you have your own little army of helpers right at your fingertips. Asking kids to set the table, pour drinks, chop veggies or help make a salad doesn’t just make your job easier—it also shows them that making the time and effort to eat together as a family is important.

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