Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Make Time for Family Meals in the Back-to-School Schedule

As the summer ebbs and the back-to-school advertisements fill your mailbox, the pace of life will increase and we’ll be looking at some empty seats at the dinner table. However, eating together as a family is important and has been shown to benefit family members both physically and mentally. A Harvard study showed that eating family dinners together most or all days of the week was associated with eating more healthfully. Family members generally consumed higher amounts of calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6 and B12, C and E and consumed less overall fat. Another study found that children who eat meals with their families tend to do better in school. Project EAT from the University of Minnesota found that teen girls who ate with their families appeared less likely to use diet pills, laxatives and extreme measure to control their weight. So how do we make family meals work in busy family schedules? With both parents working, meal preparation may need to be done quickly. Get the family to help with the preparation. Acquired cooking skills will benefit your children in later years. • Cook enough to have leftover meals for busy days. • Slice and dice fresh vegetables for multiple meals and store in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Single serving bags of carrots, cherry tomatoes and celery can be used in lunches or snacks. • Buy meats in convenient portions – ham slices, boneless chicken breasts, sliced beef or steaks. Smaller portions can be cooked quickly and vegetables can be stir fried together. • Convenience foods are OK. Try to choose foods with less fat and salt. As children get older, the importance of family meals may need to be stressed as a priority. If sport schedules, church activities, scouts, drama practices, etc.get in the way most nights, choosing several nights a week for family dinners may be the best you can do. Some suggestions for increasing enthusiasm for family meals are: • Let children have an active voice in choosing the nights for family meals. • Have older children select the menu or even prepare the food some nights. • Keep the conversation positive. Ask open ended questions and try not to grill children about their activities. Talk about the news, community activities, or school events. • Be open to guests. Children may want to socialize with others, resulting in another missed dinner time. Adult and youth guests can contribute to interesting conversations. • Keep it simple when time is short. Try a new food or recipe when more time is available. If children like to cook, trying new recipes may encourage self expression and greater interest in family meals and healthy eating. Family meals can be family breakfasts or lunches or held at 4:00 or 9:00 p.m. Try to plan your activities this fall to leave time for eating together. For a free flyer on family meals, contact your local Penn State Extension office at Ask for The ABC’s of Growing Healthy Kids, Good Times at Mealtimes.

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