Studies suggest kids in families who eat together do better in school, with improved vocabularies and higher test scores. It can be tricky to schedule regular meals together, but the strong bond your family will share is worth the effort.
Make time to eat with your family using the following tips from registered dietitian nutritionists — the food and nutrition experts!
Quick Guide to Nutritious Meals
Planning saves time and allows the opportunity to pack a family meal with an extra nutritional punch. Before you make your shopping list and head to the grocery store, consider the following criteria for healthier options:
- Include at least one selection from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods.
- Incorporate sources of dietary fiber such as whole-grain breads and cereals, and plant-based sources of protein like, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Limit foods that are fried or high in added sugar and salt.
Here is a balanced and nutritious dinner: Mediterranean chicken breast (a boneless, skinless chicken breast baked for 20 minutes with lemon juice, a pinch of oregano and topped with feta cheese); steamed broccoli; brown rice; low-fat vanilla yogurt topped with fresh berries; and a glass of water.
Make Meals a Family Affair
Even if in a rush, families still can work together for speedy meal preparation: adults can be in charge of the entrée, older kids can prepare a salad and little ones can help set the table.
Finally, to make the most of your family meals, make conversation part of the dining experience and reduce distractions by turning off the TV and phones and tuning into your loved ones.
What to Serve When You Don’t Have Time for Homemade
If you don't have time to whip up a homemade meal, you still can enjoy all the benefits of a nutritious family dinner. Here are four speedy meals you can prepare without breaking a sweat.
- Frozen ravioli with store-bought sauce and a salad. A well-stocked pantry and freezer can go a long way in cutting down on last minute trips to the supermarket. Fill your pantry with go-to ingredients such as your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce, whole-wheat pasta and polenta, and load your freezer with different varieties of frozen ravioli, stuffed shells or manicotti. A healthful dinner will never be more than 20 minutes away.
- Rotisserie chicken, frozen mashed potatoes and peas. When it comes to frozen veggies, you can lose the guilt. Because they're flash frozen within hours of harvesting, frozen vegetables actually may have more nutrients than fresh which can sit at the store for days. Plus, they're ready in the microwave or on the stovetop in minutes. In addition to peas, load up on edamame, carrots, corn, chopped spinach and even mashed potatoes.
- Veggie burgers with a cucumber salad. A vegetarian meal doesn't have to mean hours over the stove. Keep staples such as veggie burgers and whole-wheat buns on hand for a meatless meal you can throw together on the fly. Serve with sliced cucumbers drizzled with your favorite vinaigrette dressing.
- Grilled chicken Caesar salad with French bread. For a convenience meal that feels homemade, slice up store-bought grilled chicken breasts and toss with hearts of romaine and light Caesar dressing. If you have a few minutes to spare, bake up frozen whole-wheat dinner rolls or French bread and the house will smell like you've been baking all afternoon.
Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN is a nutrition consultant, journalist and author specializing in nutrition, health and wellness.
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