By Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
(Click here to learn more about Connie Evers and Nutrition for Kids)
Connie’s Healthy Eating Blog
T.R.U.T.H. Principle 2: Relax
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating
Too many families opt out of regular family meals and that’s a big problem. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) released a report this week that showed that more than 30% of kids ages 12-17 rarely eat meals with their family.
Kids who miss this meal also miss out on relaxation, bonding, communication and of course, a big helping of good nutrition! Studies show that kids have healthier overall eating habits, better school performance, and are more likely to attain a healthy weight. Teens and tweens who eat three or more weekly family meals even have less “risky” behavior such as depression, substance abuse, and disordered eating.
Families often opt out of regular meals because of stressed out schedules and impossibly busy lives. Drive through dining, eating on the run, or grabbing mall or ballpark food soon become the norm. A home cooked meal starts to seem like a Herculean task! I know, I’ve been there!
My advice: Relax!
A family meal doesn’t have to be hours in the making. Simple, fresh, easy-to-prepare foods can make it to the table in minutes. Make it a family affair by enlisting your kids in planning, shopping, cooking and clean-up. Not only do you get much-deserved help, your children are picking up essential life skills. Also, when kids have a hand in preparing new foods, they are much more likely to taste and enjoy.
Here are my speedy meal tricks that I use on especially busy days:
- My go-to “fast food” meal is multi-grain or whole wheat pasta. While the pasta is boiling, saute fresh or frozen veggies in a bit of olive oil. Toss with cooked pasta and top with shredded Parmesan or chunks of Feta cheese. Add fresh fruit for a complete meal.
- Buy ready-to-use ingredients such as bagged salad, precut stir-fry vegetables, grated low fat cheese, skinless, boneless chicken breasts, and fresh cut-up fruit. The extra cost of these items is often cheaper than dining out.
- For every-day meals, use simple side dishes such as cut up fruit or carrot sticks, frozen vegetables, quinoa or whole wheat couscous, and whole grain bread or rolls. Spend most of your time on an easy “main dish.”
- For quick and healthy homemade chicken nuggets, cut chicken breasts into pieces and dip in a mixture of ½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt mixed with 2 Tablespoons mustard. Roll in crushed whole grain cereal crumbs and place on a no-stick baking sheet. Bake approximately 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
- Leftover chili or other “thick” soups or stews make a great topper for baked potatoes. Add a little low fat grated cheese, a salad, and 1% milk for a complete meal.
- Dinner doesn’t have to be hot! A whole grain pita pocket is a good way to stuff extra vegetables into the diet. Cut pocket in half and fill with lean turkey or ham, tomato slices, leafy lettuce, avocado chunks and thinly sliced pepper rings. Drizzle a bit of low-fat vinaigrette over the top and eat.
Finally, my favorite trick while preparing dinner is to serve kids a vegetable “appetizer.” They are extra hungry, often irritable and in need of a little something before dinner. By putting out a bowl of grape tomatoes, pea pods, or broccoli florets, (with hummus or low-fat dressing), they have something to munch on, they eat more than a serving of vegetables, and it doesn’t dull their appetite for dinner. Best of all, they relax and so do I!