Food/Nutrition Columnist
Are Family Meals Today’s Dinosaurs On the Verge of Extinction
Aug 27, 2017 - 9:03:00 AM

( - September is National Family Meals Month. Sadly, few people know about this promotion to get families to eat together more often because fewer and fewer families eat meals together today. Out of the 21 possible meals each week, families with children eat only 7 meals together as a family, less than 4 of them are dinner.

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) initiated the family meals movement in 2015. As the voice of food retailers FMI was best positioned to help families eat together more often. Their goal is to encourage families to eat at least one more meal a week with each other. Americans want to eat together but modern family life can be exhausting – both parents working, afterschool activities that vary from child to child, homework, little time to cook, individual likes and dislikes, and lack of cooking skills all contribute to the decline of the once common family dinner.

Why make the effort to eat together? In addition to eating better food when it is made at home, family meals contribute to the social and emotional health of children. Kids who eat at least 5 meals a week with their parents are more connected to one another and parents know more about what is going on in their child’s life. Family ties are stronger. Family interaction through meals cuts down on risky behavior. Kids who eat only 3 meals a week with their parents are less likely to use drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. Children also do better at school and have higher self-esteem. And, if all this isn’t enough, meals prepared at home are cheaper than those eaten at a restaurant or ordered in.

A healthy family meal can actually be easier than you think. Few families have time for a big, sit-down breakfast but most like typical breakfast foods such as pancakes, waffles, or omelets. Serve breakfast for dinner. If time is short, use frozen pancakes or waffles, served with lowfat sausages and fresh fruit you have a healthy dinner. Think combine, instead of cook. A rotisserie chicken, plus a bag of salad fixings and microwaved potatoes or rice can be assembled in a few minutes and once again is a healthy choice. Sandwiches are another good dinner choice with a side salad or fresh fruit.

Kids can be notoriously fussy eaters. Compromise is always the best approach. Set up a list of acceptable substitutes when kids turn up their nose at part of dinner. The key with substitutes is that they should be handy, require no additional preparation, and the choices are agreed on beforehand. Let your child know that they can have only 1 substitute at a meal. You are being reasonable within limits.  

· Don’t like the meat choice for dinner, offer nuts, nut butter, cheese wedge or a hard cooked egg.

· Refuse cooked veggies, offer a raw choice or fruit instead.

· If the carb choice is rejected, offer a slice of whole wheat bread, microwave single serve brown rice, corn, beans, popcorn (crazy you think, but it is a whole grain). 

Other simple tips you can try that will get children exploring foods and trying new options at meals are:

· Eat a colorful plate. By choosing foods of varying colors, kids automatically select a variety of food that offers a selection of different nutrients.

· Eat at least 3 foods at each meal. Some of the combinations they pick will be odd, but they are getting variety and it doesn’t matter if they eat a piece of chicken with grapes and whole grain crackers. That is the foundation of a healthy meal.

· Surprise them with wacky meal choices just for fun. Serve dinner with a bowl of popcorn instead of rice or potatoes. Cut up watermelon wedges instead of serving a vegetable for dinner. Serve raw veggies plus a dip instead of cooked vegetables.

· Serve plenty of whole grains. These foods are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and low in fat. Kids traditionally like breads, pasta, rice and cereals. Use whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice and cereals made from whole grains.

· Be a good role model. Children learn by living and watching what their parents say and do. Concentrate your eating messages on what your child can eat, not what he can’t, and practice what you preach.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:



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