Happy family dining together

We have all done it. We get off work late at 5:30 p.m., rush to the school to pick up our child, have him/her get ready in the back seat while en route to the 6 p.m. soccer game. Then exhausted, hungry, and tired at 7 p.m., we go through the drive-through for burgers and fries on the way home.  If this is you only once a month, then it is probably OK. If this is you three to five days a week, it might be time to re-think the family meal and activity schedule.

A recent review published in Pediatrics showed that kids who have family meals more often (at least three a week) are more likely to be normal weight, eat healthier foods, eat fewer unhealthy foods and are less likely to show disordered eating behaviors.

Even though many of us would like to have family meals, we may feel constrained by time. Having a family meal AND keeping to the activity schedule is not as hard is it may sound, and it doesn’t always take a lot of time. Here are some ways to handle a too-busy-for-meals schedule:

  1. Try packing dinner ahead.  As a former, working soccer mom, I would often pack a small cooler and put it in the car in the morning with several ice packs. I would include sandwiches (choose whole grain bread and lean meat or peanut butter and fruit spread), some squeezable yogurt (not ideal, but high in calcium and vitamin D), fresh fruit, a few baked chips or carrot sticks and a drink.  If we were really late, we could eat these in the car on the way. If not, we could have a nice family picnic and talk a little before the game started.
  2. Crock pot it. This is a throw-back to the seventies, but crock-pot cooking is a great way to ensure a healthful, hot meal after an activity.  You don’t even have to purchase a cookbook. Tons of recipes are available on-line.  Just the other day I made “chicken in a pot” while my family was at church. When we got home, there was a delicious fresh-cooked whole chicken with carrots and mushrooms waiting.
  3. Learn some quick and easy recipes that you can put together fast. Ordering pizza might sound fast, but it often takes up to an hour. Many recipes take a fraction of that. Consider spaghetti.  All you have to do is brown some meat or veggie crumbles, add a jar of sauce (look for a low-sugar version), then cook some whole-wheat spaghetti noodles. They take just 10 minutes to cook. (You can choose angel hair if your child doesn’t like wheat pasta; they won’t notice the difference.) Your child can tear lettuce for salad while you cook, and you’ll be sitting down to eat in under 30 minutes, and how much richer in nutrients will your meal be and how much better for your waistline?

Start today!  Make time for your family, and you’ll all be a little healthier.

Kathleen Davis is an outpatient dietitian at Cook Children’s Medical Center.

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