September is Family Meals Month. It’s no wonder why there’s an entire 30 days devoted to encouraging families to eat together more often. Experts frequently tout the benefits of family meals, including better nutrition, and improved school performance and higher self-esteem in children. In a perfect world, spouses, partners, and kids would be home at the same time, nobody would be cranky, tired, or hormonal, and nobody would complain about the food. I’m a big fan of family meals, but I also know that making them happen on a regular basis can be overwhelming. Here’s why you should try anyway.
Why Family Meals Matter
As the mother of three, I think that sitting down together over a meal helps kids in a number of ways, no matter how often your three year-old wanders off in search of something more interesting, or your teen turns up her nose at what’s for dinner.
Family meals help kids develop a sense of regularity and routine that could carry into later life. A study of college students suggests eating at the same time promotes better nutrition. And, eating together allows you to teach kids good table manners and expose them to new foods.
Yet, it may not be necessary to create a soothing, nurturing environment around the table on a daily basis. Some experts and others (including comedian Ana Gasteyer, a mother of two) think the benefits of family meals are exaggerated.
If you can’t make family meals happen as often as you like, take comfort in this: A large study that examined the effects of family dinners on children found that spending time with your kids and taking an interest in their daily lives matters most for their well-being, whether that happens during at meal times, or not.
5 No-Fuss Dinners
Interested in more family meals with less stress? I highly recommend lowering your standards. Keep dinner as simple as possible. Cook at home as often as you can, and don’t worry about dining out or ordering in every so often, but do make healthier choices.
Here are five healthy dinners you can have on the table in 20 minutes or less:
- Stir-fry 8 to 12 ounces of lean ground beef or 100% ground skinless, boneless turkey breast with a large chopped onion, cumin, and salt and ground black pepper. Combine with 1 cup canned, drained black beans. Spoon the cooked meat/bean mixture onto 4 whole wheat tortillas. Top with shredded cheese, chopped tomato, lettuce, and low-fat sour cream. Pair with fruit.
- Store-bought rotisserie chicken; salad of prewashed greens, cherry tomatoes, and olives; quick-cooking grain such as whole wheat couscous, and milk.
- Grilled cheese or tuna melt with sliced tomato; cup of lentil soup (beans are vegetables!); fruit, and a cup of yogurt.
- Serve Brinner (breakfast for dinner): French toast made with whole grain bread, fruit, milk. Or omelet made with cheese and leftover vegetables, fruit, milk, whole grain toast or roll.
- Pizza prepared with whole grain tortillas or whole wheat Naan bread and store-bought shredded cheddar cheese; green salad; fruit.