Six Simple Ways to Squeeze in Family Meals
Getting together for family meals has been linked to several physical and psychological benefits for family members. These include better nutrition, reduced risk of overweight/obesity, and developmental achievements for children. Unfortunately, many families face obstacles such as conflicting schedules and time pressures in setting aside time to share meals. The following are some simple ways to help make mealtime family time.
- Be realistic. Try for family meals as often as you can. While dinner is a popular time for family meals, breakfast may be a more convenient time to gather around the family table, even if it’s just to share a very simple breakfast such as a strawberry oatmeal breakfast smoothie.
- Be flexible. Consider eating together at unconventional times and places. Family meals can happen any time of the day, any day of the week.
- Plan ahead. Ask family members about their schedules and whether certain activities can be changed so that everyone is available to share a meal.
- Prepare ahead. Meals don’t have to be complicated and time-consuming to prepare. When my children lived at home, I often cooked a Sunday dinner that would provide leftovers for another meal during the week. When time permitted, I also prepared large batches of food such as casseroles, tomato sauce, lasagna, etc. and froze them in meal-size portions for later “fast food” meals. Look for recipes and meal ideas that are easy to prepare, not time-consuming, and can be made ahead. Also, the food industry has made many food products available to speed up or eliminate meal preparation time, such as shredded cheeses, pre-cut vegetables, and pre-prepared meals.
- Involve family members. Encouraging them to help set the table, toss a salad, and clear the table, etc. can be a time-saver. Cooking with children can help them learn basic cooking skills, create an open-minded approach to different foods and ingredients, expose them to new tastes, and provide an opportunity to talk about nutrition and health. Cooking together also provides young people a chance to learn about cultural food traditions and family food favorites of previous generations.
- Enjoy. Sharing family meals allows you to share delicious food, and spend quality time together as a family while creating long-lasting memories. This means limiting distractions such as the TV and cell phones during meals, and encouraging positive interactions and conversations. Make family meals fun! At your next family meal, toast the event by raising a glass of milk.
For healthy, delicious recipes that the whole family can enjoy, visit www.milkmeansmore.org/recipes. A couple of favorites are the mozzarella stuffed turkey burgers with basil and tomato, and the chicken cobb macaroni salad, which can be prepared a few days ahead of serving.