Making Meal Time Family Time

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

August is “Family Meals Month” and we all know how important it is for families to share meals together. Enjoying home-cooked meals with families has been proven to have enormous benefits in physical, mental, behavioral, social and educational development in children, and families who eat meals together usually eat healthier foods.

Children who eat meals with their families drink less soda and eat fewer high-fat snacks, and they also consume more fruits and vegetables. Additionally, their diets have more variety, and this provides important nutrients needed for growth and development.

With a little creativity and enthusiasm, you can get your whole family excited about eating healthy. As we all know, the parents or adults in charge must set a good example of how to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • Start off small by establishing one night per week to be a family mealtime. It could be a themed night, such as “Taco Tuesdays” or “Spaghetti Sundays.” Make sure everyone agrees to be there and discuss ways to make traditional recipes (like tacos) healthier.
  • Start a family garden. Children are more likely to want to eat produce from the garden if they had a role in planting, growing, and harvesting the fruits and vegetables.
  • Invite the whole family, including children, into the kitchen to help prepare the meals.
  • Make meals in a slow-cooker. It’s easy and delicious. Simply season a beef or pork roast and add a variety of vegetables to the pot.
  • Choose meals that everyone enjoys by letting each person assemble his or her own plate. Set up a “baked potato bar” and provide a variety of toppings and sauces. A “burrito buffet” or “pita party” with a variety of fillings and toppings is another tasty option that allows everyone to build what they like based on their individual taste preferences.

Addressing nutrition in the household can be made more difficult when the family budget is tight. Fortunately, there are resources available for people in this situation. During the summer months, for example, there are more than a hundred sites in the St. Louis metro area that have free, nutritious meals available for kids. Typically, these well-balanced meals are part of a recreational or educational program, but some locations simply serve a meal.

Operation Food Search has begun working with multiple resources to spread the word about these sites by representing our community in a nationwide campaign, No Kid Hungry, with the goal of eradicating hunger by 2015. We’re engaging a growing network of supporters and programs to feed hungry kids. Operation Food Search is actively building awareness of childhood hunger through advocacy and promoting existing resources. Families who want to learn where the nearest summer program or meal site is can call 314-657-1695, or go to http://www.operationfoodsearch.org/services-and-programs/summer-meals.php.

Operation Food Search is pleased to be a catalyst in making No Kid Hungry a reality.