Posts Tagged ‘ family meals ’

5 Things To Stop Feeling Guilty About At The Dinner Table

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

As a mom, it’s easy to spend a lot of your time feeling guilty. From the moment that little pink line appears on the pregnancy test, it seems like there’s something around every corner making you feel like a lousy mom. And food—how you feed your child, what your child eats, what your child doesn’t eat—is the granddaddy of them all. But as far as I’m concerned, you can officially cancel these five dinnertime guilt trips:

1. Uneaten vegetables: As a parent, your job is to decide what food to offer and when to offer it. Your child’s job is to decide whether to eat it (and how much to eat). That’s called the Division of Responsibility, a concept created by dietitian Ellyn Satter that makes your job a whole lot easier. It means no more negotiations, no more bribing. Just continue to offer different kinds of vegetables in different kinds of ways and be patient with your kids. (Read: Why I Don’t Make My Kids Take Just One Bite)

2. Packaged foods: There’s no shame in relying on some packaged and convenience foods to get the job done at dinner. Some of my favorites: packaged tortillas, frozen sweet potato fries, breaded fish, canned beans, jarred pasta sauce, and instant brown rice. I don’t feel guilty about it, because having these kinds of staples on hand means dinner is easier to get on the table (so I’m less likely to order a pizza or take out).

3. Ketchup and ranch dressing: Sauces and dips should be embraced at your table if your kids like them. That’s because they can actually serve as a “bridge” that helps your child to accept lots of different kinds of foods, including veggies (Read: In Defense of Ranch Dressing). And keep in mind that they’re often short-term tools (at least in the quantities kids tend to use them). In other words, your child probably won’t be dunking his asparagus into barbecue sauce when he’s a grown-up.

4. Dessert: It’s okay to serve (and love!) dessert—and yes, you can even serve it on the table with dinner! (Read: Got Dessert-Obsessed Kids? This Solution Sounds Crazy—But It Works!) And no, kids shouldn’t have to take a certain number of bites or eat their vegetables before getting it. A small scoop of ice cream or cookie at dinnertime will better fit into your family’s day if you reduce added sugars in other places (read: The Truth About Kids And Added Sugars).

5. Chaos: Not having picture-perfect family dinners where everyone shares stories of their days and uses all their table manners? (Do those even exist?) It’s okay if dinnertime is sometimes loud and messy and, let’s face it, not always enjoyable. But maintaining the ritual of family dinners is what’s important—and it will get easier.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on a cookbook for busy families called Dinnertime Survival Guide. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better

Image: Family meal via Shutterstock

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Why Your Cell Doesn’t Belong at the Table

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Put down that phone. Dinner is one of the few times when families get a chance to step away from the chaos of work, school, and extracurricular activities and give their full attention to one another. But talking can be hard when there’s a screen between you and your children. Just 25 percent of families ban all electronic devices during suppertime, according to a survey funded by Dixie. Being absorbed by your phone can discourage face-to-face conversations and distract you from crucial bonding time.

Parenting and family expert Dr. Michele Borba says meals can be a great opportunity to let kids practice communication skills and manners, but having distractions can take away from these learning moments.

“We’re dealing with kids who would rather text than talk,” says Dr. Borba. “They’re comfortable as digital natives, but we are starting to see a slide in children’s emotional skills.”

Kids aren’t the only ones guilty of pulling out their cell phones. About 70 percent of Dixie survey respondents said parents are the family members most likely to get distracted by their phones.

“Many children are concerned that the biggest offenders are parents,” says Dr. Borba. “Children and teens say when we have dinner with family, they feel more connected.”

Family meals have benefits beyond communicating with loved ones. Eating meals together in high school was associated with better eating habits during young adulthood, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Those who ate most often with their families as teens ate more fruits and vegetables, particularly highly nutritious ones, than those who ate with their parents less often, the study found.

What’s more, eating together has been correlated with a lower chance of high-risk behavior among adolescents. The more meals 6th- through 12th-graders had with their families, the less likely they were to drink, engage in violent behavior, use drugs, and experience excessive weight loss, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Plus, those who ate five to seven times per week with their families were nearly four times more likely than their peers who had one or no family dinners to report having family support, and more than twice as likely to say they’re engaged in school and have the motivation to succeed, the survey found.

Although these studies focused on teenagers, it’s never too early to start eating more meals together. Family life will likely get busier as your kids grow up, so it’s important to make meals a habit when kids are young. It’s not just about physically sitting down together; it’s about taking the time to engage with your loved ones.

Dr. Borba joined Dixie’s Dark for Dinner movement, encouraging families to focus on mealtime and to “Be More Here.” Every Sunday, participants are asked to show their social media followers they’re disengaging by setting a Dark for Dinner image as their profile picture, then leaving their phones and electronics in another room while they eat. Once family members log back on, Dixie suggests they share a moment from their meal using the hashtag #DarkForDinner.

Removing distractions once a week is a great start, but it doesn’t have to end there. Make electronics-free meals a habit and see just how much you can get out of quality face time with your family.

Get recipes and shopping lists for easy weeknight meals.

Marissa Laliberte is an editorial intern at Parents magazine who loves running, baking, and drinking coffee. Follow her on Twitter.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Image: Family dinner via Shutterstock

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5 Time Saving Tips to Feed Your Family Well

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

As any parent can attest, providing kids with healthful foods most of the time can be a real challenge. When it comes to family meals, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPh, RD, lead researcher of the ongoing Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults) study at the University of Michigan, cites time barriers and conflicting activities of both parents and children as two of the biggest barriers to family meals. Yet the research, much of it from Project EAT, has demonstrated numerous benefits of family meals. As I’ve written about in The Scoop on Food, family meals have been linked with healthier body weights; higher quality diets; and less alcohol, tobacco and drug use, less disordered eating and less risk of depression among teens.

So how do parents who don’t see anything slowing down for them or their kids anytime soon find (and make) time to feed their growing children and entire family better?

I asked Self Magazine blogger Sarah-Jane Bedwell, author of the new book Schedule Me Skinny, to offer some tips to help time-strapped parents feed their families well. Below you’ll find five of her favorite time saving strategies.

1. Take 10 minutes to plan healthy dinners for the week. Half of each dinner plate should be filled with fruits/veggies, 1/4 of the plate should include lean protein foods, and the remaining 1/4 plate should be filled with healthy starch (like whole grains or starchy veggies prepared with healthy fats and herbs/spices). On two nights each week, make a double batch of any recipe so you have leftovers for lunches or dinners for other busier nights.

2. Make a strategic shopping list: The Food Marketing Institute reports that for every minute we spend in a grocery store we spend $2. That’s why it’s important to take five minutes each week to make a strategic grocery list that is organized by area of the store. If all the produce you need is listed together, all the meat is listed together, etc, not only will this get you in and out of the store faster, but you’ll also be more likely to stick to your list and therefore spend less money on impulse buys.

3. Prep for success. Part of the Schedule Me Skinny 30 Minute Power-Planning Session is to spend 15 minutes at the beginning of the week prepping food so that meals can be put together in just minutes all throughout the week. To prep, cook one large batch of whole grain or starchy vegetables (such as quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta or potatoes). Next, wash and chop hearty veggies like peppers, cucumbers, broccoli and carrots. On a weeknight, you can throw together the items you’ve already prepped along with an easy protein source such as canned salmon or tuna or beans to make a quick, healthy dinner.

4. Pre-portion your food. Portion control is extremely important to help children enjoy foods in moderation and to grow into healthy weights. However, it can be hard to take the time to measure items during a busy week when you’re trying to feed your kids a snack before soccer practice or get dinner on the table in a timely fashion. If you simply take five minutes or less at the beginning of the week to measure commonly used items like fatty foods (like cheeses, nuts and salad dressings) and favorite treats (like chips, candy and snack mixes) and portion them into baggies or small containers for instant portion control later on, you’ll save a lot of time when you’re time-crunched.

5. Keep a snack stash on hand. To help kids keep their energy levels up, their metabolisms going strong and to meet (and not exceed) their nutrient needs to help them grow, it is important for kids to eat every few hours. Snacks can be a great way to go when time is short in-between meals. To help you stay armed when the munchies strike, it’s smart to take five minutes each week to make a stash of snacks that don’t have to be refrigerated in your car/purse/desk. Options include: dried fruit and nuts, apples, bananas and single serve peanut butter packets. A good rule of thumb is to keep snack options at around 200 calories and include a whole grain or fruit/veggie AND a lean protein or healthy fat for staying power. Examples include one small apple, sliced and a string cheese or 1/2 banana topped with one tablespoon almond or peanut butter and rolled in 2 tablespoons crushed whole-grain cereal. Keeping your own snacks on hand will prevent you from spending money on over-priced junk food from a vending machine or drive through and save you the time of trying to find or fix a snack!

How do you save time feeding your family?

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Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better

Image of vegetables on the wooden background and paper for shopping list via shutterstock. 


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How to Excite Kids to Cook

Friday, September 20th, 2013

If a recent article in the Wall Street Journal—“Does It Count as a Family Dinner If It’s Over in Eight Minutes?”—is any indicator of how time-rushed and overscheduled all of us are, is there any chance we parents can expect to raise kids who learn to, or want to, cook?

Of course key influencers like Michael Pollan and Mollie Katzen help more and more parents and their kids get into the kitchen. Pollan speaks to the importance of cooking in his latest book, Cooked, and Katzen inspires children and parents alike to cook with her many cookbooks, including her latest—The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.

Despite the inspiration, many harried parents may still feel they don’t have the time or skills needed to pass along cooking tips and know-how to their children. The good news is that when you break it down, it doesn’t take much to get kids—especially little ones—interested in cooking.

Below you’ll find six expert tips to help you instill excitement, adventure, and ritual into preparing family meals. Following these tips will help you help your kids develop fine motor and other skills. It will also teach them the value and joy associated with family meals, and give them bonding experiences—and memories—that are sure to last a lifetime.

Start with the basics. Since most young children are new to food preparation, Melissa Herrmann Dierks RDN, LDN, CDE suggests starting with the basics. “My 5-year-old old son and I start every meal by washing our hands and making sure that the food preparation area is clean,” says Dierks.

Be prepared. Culinary nutritionist Jessica Cox, RD, encourages parents to allow kids to help with age-appropriate preparation tasks. “Depending on your child’s age, he or she can help wash fresh produce, cut and chop ingredients, shred and grate, mash, crack and separate eggs, tear lettuce leaves, remove herbs from stems, and snap asparagus,” says Cox.

Master the measure. Besides being good math practice, both Cox and Dierks agree learning to measure different kinds of foods has its perks for kids.”You can use this opportunity to teach older children the difference between dry ingredient and liquid measuring cups and to practice math skills and measurement conversions,” says Cox. Dierks encourages her son to measure and add ingredients, and to count when adding eggs to a recipe, for example. She says, “My son loves to make pudding, which includes measuring, stirring and pouring as well as the food safety tip of not licking the whisk! He also likes to help with chicken recipes that involve coating the chicken and adding toppings or shaking it in a baggie of panko or cornflake crumbs.” She adds, “Spraying the cooking dish with non-stick cooking spray is also a favorite, especially for small children.”

Stay safe. Dierks teaches her son basic food safety including not touching food with hands and keeping foods at the appropriate temperatures. She also teaches him basic kitchen safety such as how to stir a hot food on top of the range without touching the hot pan, and shows him how to do things like take a hot dish out of the oven.

Embrace the chaos…and have fun! Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN, Editor of Smart Eating for Kids, encourages parents to keep cooking with the kids light and fun. She says, “If your kids are on the young-side, don’t expect perfection. And don’t expect things to stay neat and tidy. Embrace the mess and chaos and take solace in knowing that you’re not only bonding with your child, but you’re teaching him or her important skills.” For parents who don’t have the time or energy to involve their children in preparing a real meal, Hoover recommends food-related science experiments or finding other ways to help kids explore food.

How do you encourage your kids to cook or help out when you prepare family meals?

Image of two kids measuring and mixing into large mixing bowl via Shutterstock.


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Tags: , , | Categories: Meals, Must Read

How to Feed Different Eaters

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Leanne, a reader of The Scoop on Food, recently asked, “How does a family with children who have very different nutritional needs and food preferences handle mealtimes?” In an email, she explained her struggle to feed her children who have different body types and appetites. “My 15 year-old son is slim, athletic and has limited food preferences, and my 11 year-old daughter is a little overweight, but she’s athletic and eats and enjoys a lot of healthy foods. I try to feed them well, but feel like I constantly shove food down my son’s throat and yell at my daughter not to eat.”

If you have more than one child, it’s likely you can relate to this mom’s struggle—at least some of the time. According to Jill Castle, co-author (with Maryann Jacobsen) of the new book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, “Besides having multiple mouths to feed, parents need to be aware that each child’s needs change as they grow. Parents need to be prepared to help their children move through different stages of growth and development.” The good news, according to Castle, is that parents can make it easier on themselves and their children by streamlining feeding and mealtimes.

To help you feed your children to meet their unique nutritional needs at any stage and keep mealtimes pleasant, I asked Castle and Jacobsen—both registered dietitians—to provide their perpectives on a few feeding matters. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

EZ: Because parents are so time-crunched, do you think it’s ok for us to be short order cooks? Or should we feed all family members the same foods at mealtimes?

JC: Ask any parent who has become a short-order cook, and most will tell you they dread it. It makes feeding the family an exercise in drudgery. We encourage parents to provide one meal for the whole family.

MJ: Eating one meal together helps to gradually expand children’s palates. Bringing children into the meal planning process by asking for their input can help make mealtimes more pleasant. It’s good to have some nights where the meal is something the children like. On other nights, parents can offer something new or something that’s disliked along with side dishes that they know their children enjoy.

EZ: What if you have one child who is a big eater, and another who isn’t much of an eater?

MJ: The feeding strategy should be the same for all children. In fact, research shows that pressuring a thin child to eat causes them to eat less. At the same time, trying to get an overweight child to eat less makes him want to eat even more. The key is to support appetite regulation in all children by offering balanced meals in a timely and structured way.

In Fearless Feeding, we show parents appropriate portion sizes for children. But we also encourage parents to let children eat until they are full. And during growth spurts, children will need extra helpings of food to feel full. Emerging research shows that young adults who allow hunger and fullness cues to guide their eating have lower weights and fewer eating problems.

EZ: Do you think it’s better to plate foods in different portions to meet each child’s needs, or to offer foods family style?

JC: We recommend offering all the food groups in the meal plan using a family-style approach. You can place entrées and side dishes on plates or bowls in the center of the table and have family members pass them around the table. Each person can then select what he or she will eat (from what is served) and how much. This feeding method gives children a say in what and how much they eat, but keeps the parent in charge of the meal. It also trains children to self-regulate their food intake over time. What helps this approach be effective is for parents include one or two items on the table that their children are comfortable with, such as milk and/or fruit, and avoid using “replacement items” at the table or offering a “supplement meal” after the meal is over.

MJ: Besides helping children feel like they have some control at mealtimes, offering foods family style may, over time, make children more willing to try new or previously disliked foods. Since children’s taste preferences aren’t fully formed, they need plenty of opportunities to try new foods. Even children who choose not to try something will at least be exposed to different foods and will benefit from watching others at the table eat the item. Food acceptance in children is a slow process, and trying to speed it up often backfires.

EZ: Any other words of wisdom to help parents feed their children with different needs in positive and empowering ways?

JC: When parents dictate what their child will eat, or even how much they will eat, a potentially negative dynamic around eating performance gets created. Either the child is performing well with eating, or not. That’s when conflict, judgment and negative feeding practices can get rooted, and table drama begins. It doesn’t have to be so stressful. We wrote Fearless Feeding to take the stress out of feeding children at all ages and stages and to make mealtimes not only more nutritious, but more pleasant and productive as well.


Full disclosure: The publisher provided me with a complimentary copy of Fearless Feeding.

Image of family raising their glasses together before eating via Shutterstock.




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Tags: , , | Categories: Diet, Meals, Nutrition