One Simple Habit to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy

Less than half of American households regularly sit down for family meals. But research shows that eating together supports better nutrition and a host of other desirable benefits.

If there was one simple way you could boost your child’s daily nutrition, would you do it?

The answer isn’t an expensive multivitamin or a complex diet — it’s the act of sitting down on a regular basis to enjoy family meals together. And, the effort pays off.

“Children of families who regularly eat together are more likely to have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and have a healthy weight, and are less likely to have behavior problems,” according to an article at eatright.org, the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

This is a tall order for busy families, but it’s so worth it. The experts suggest starting with a commitment to eating at least one meal together each week. A family weekend dinner is an obvious choice, but the benefit extends to breakfast and lunch shared together, too.

Mealtimes together are so important for children that a group of educators, therapists, researchers and parents gathered to create an organization called The Family Dinner Project. They believe — and research shows — that regular family dinners correlate with “lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem,” according to the website.

For younger kids, the conversation shared during a family meal builds vocabulary and even boosts resilience. In kids of all ages, this simple routine also lowers the rates of obesity and eating disorders.

Sold on the concept of family dinners, but wondering how you’ll make it happen? We share some tips for finding time, plus recipes that will entice your whole family to slow down, sit down, relax and maybe even linger at the table.

Finding time for family meals

It might take a little work to find a routine that works for your family. Set up for success by starting slow and building gradually. You’ll be surprised by how much even the most reluctant kids will begin to crave that family time together. Prioritize your effort and the benefits will begin to build. Here are some ways to make family meals happen around your table:

Plan around sports and extracurricular activities. Here’s where you can use a slow cooker to time dinner according to your own schedule. Most recipes can be adapted from the stovetop or oven to a slow cooker. Or, get reacquainted with your instant pot to cook anything from whole grains to soups quickly and easily.

Share the responsibility. Tweens and teens can work together to make dinner, and younger kids can set the table and pour milk. If a parent is doing the cooking, the kids can clean up.

Switch off the screens. Use this time to talk about your day and encourage your kids to share, too.

Dinner won’t work? Start with breakfast. If dinner seems daunting, or you know you’ll always be waiting on that one family member to return home, try getting up just a few minutes early and create a whole-family breakfast routine your kids will enjoy. Check out these recipes for quick breakfast meal ideas. Or start with weekend breakfasts and see where you go.

Keep it simple. Mealtime doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving-elaborate to be beneficial. Grilled cheese sandwiches are satisfying and easy and pair well with carrot and celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets and cucumbers. If you’re feeling just a tiny bit fancy, try this parmesan crusted (baked) grilled cheese for a change.

Focusing on nutritious family meals

Remember that families who eat together tend to have more nutritious diets, so resist the temptation to rely on takeout. Focus on everyone’s favorite foods, and add a new recipe every now and then. Try these other ways to make family meals as healthy as possible:

  • Before you begin, invite your family to help you plan. Entice them with a batch of hot chocolate or smoothies and ask everyone to list their favorite meals. Give top priority to those that are easiest to make and have the widest appeal.
  • At each meal, add a couple of extra vegetables or a big salad and make sure to pass the plate or bowl around the whole table. Fresh fruit makes a great dessert, too.
  • Double up. By cooking extra staple ingredients, you’re prepping for the next meal, too. “Instead of making just three chicken breasts, consider making six,” suggests eatright.org. “This way, you can use the extras in other dishes, such as chicken salad or fajitas.”
  • Stock up. Consider your family’s staples and keep them on hand. Knowing you always have what you need makes planning meals much easier, and it’s a must-do for busy parents. Jodi Nemeth, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and busy mom of four kids, counts on these six tips for meal planning.
  • Meals earn extra points for being quick and easy. From simple weeknight pasta to a frittata made from leftovers to one-pan mac and cheese, your list of “back-pocket” meals just got a little longer with these eight kid-friendly options.

Content sponsored by Milk Means More. Visit millkmeansmore.org for more recipes and inspiration for healthy family eating.

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