Through the years I have learned a lot of things during our family meals. When my son was 9, he enjoyed quizzing our family about animal trivia from his world record book. I learned the cheetah is the world’s fastest animal, the sloth is the slowest and the koala is the sleepiest.
With the fast pace of family life, most parents probably feel they’re breaking some records, too. Sometimes, after a busy day, I certainly have felt like the world’s sleepiest mother. On other days, like many parents, I feel like the world’s busiest.
Regardless of how busy our days became in the 10 years since my son was a 9-year-old, I maintained a goal for my family as my children grew older. We continued to eat our meals together as often as possible.
Research shows the many benefits of family meals, including a lifetime of positive memories. Enjoying meals together enhances family communication and improves manners, too. Children who eat with their families are also less likely to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs during their teen years.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 43 percent of adults with children less than 18 eat together at least six nights a week.
Children who eat with their families also gain many nutritional benefits. They eat more fruits and vegetables, plus they get more calcium, fiber, iron, folate, and vitamin C and B. Children who eat with their families eat fewer fried foods and drink less soda pop.
With all the concern about children and weight, it’s good to know that eating family meals can promote a healthy weight. The meals served are generally more nutritious, plus family meals promote a sense of “belonging.” Children are less inclined to eat because they are lonely.
If you’re thinking that a family meal has to be a five-course gourmet dinner, think again. In fact, nutrition experts say the meals don’t even have to be enjoyed around a table. For example, in warm months, bring a picnic lunch on the way to soccer practice to enjoy at the park. In colder months, enjoy a picnic in your warm vehicle.
Be flexible with timing, too. A family meal doesn’t have to be the evening meal. It could be breakfast or even a bedtime snack eaten together.
Time is an issue in busy families, so planning helps. Make a list of favorite family menus in a notebook along with the recipes. Get the kids involved. They can help make a grocery list, help prepare food and clean up. Children learn about food safety, basic food preparation skills and even language and math skills by helping with food preparation.
Enjoy more family meals. In the words of the late Erma Bombeck: “We argued. We sulked. We laughed. We pitched for favors. We shouted. We listened. It is still our family’s finest hour.”
Here’s a time-saving recipe that takes one skillet and just 30 minutes to have on the table. To save even more time, brown ground beef ahead of time and freeze in recipe-size portions.
Zucchini, Pasta and Beef Dinner
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp. salt
1 14-oz. can beef broth
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
2 c. sliced zucchini, about 1/2-inch thick
1 cup bow tie pasta, uncooked
2 tomatoes, cut into 4 wedges
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
In a large nonstick skillet, brown ground beef, onion and garlic over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, breaking into crumbles. Drain well, season with salt and place in bowl or other container. Set aside. In same skillet, add broth, Italian seasoning, red pepper, zucchini and uncooked pasta. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until pasta is tender. Stir occasionally. Return beef to skillet and add tomatoes; heat through. Sprinkle with cheese.
Makes 4 servings. Each serving has 296 calories, 28 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat and 22 grams of carbohydrate.