Eat Better, Eat Together

Once in a while, I watch old TV shows featuring families such as the Cleavers and the Bradys. Call it nostalgia. My husband and kids would be surprised if I started wearing flowered dresses, pearls, heels and frilly aprons like the fictional TV moms when gathering them to the dinner table.

Maybe filming family interactions around a dinner table was easier for TV camera crews. Life in general seemed simpler and slower-paced back then. When fictional families such as the Cleavers and, later, the Brady Bunch were dining together, many real-life families were following suit across the U.S.

In the mid-1970s, nearly three-fourths of families ate together five or more times a week. By the mid-1990s, only about one-half of families dined together regularly. According to a recent study published in the Journal of American Medicine, 43 percent of families eat together every day.

Technology can get in the way, though. A CBS news poll found that 33 percent of the participants had the TV on all the time during their meals. Perhaps cell phones and other gadgets are distracting “guests” at the dinner table, too.

Make Family Meals a Reality With a Slow Cooker

Eating together, undistracted from technology, has many benefits. Children learn valuable social skills, family values and cooking skills if they’re involved in food preparation. Sometimes dinnertime provides the only time to hear about school, jobs and activities. Eating together is considered a protective factor for teens. They’re less apt to engage in risky behavior with a secure home environment.

Families who eat together also tend to eat more nutritiously. On the budget side, dining at home usually is substantially lower in cost than dining at a restaurant; however, eating together at a restaurant also “counts” as a family meal.

Families are busy, though, and meal preparation takes some time. Slow cookers are one way to streamline cooking. While you do have to plan and prepare the food ahead of time, a delicious meal awaits you when you arrive home.

Be sure to follow some food safety recommendations when using a slow cooker. Cut pieces into small chunks. Foods with high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce are the best options for slow cooking. Meat should be completely defrosted before being added. Browning meat before adding it to stews or soups will add flavor; draining the meat will reduce fat content.

Fill the cooker at least half full and no more than two-thirds full. Keep the lid in place, removing it only to stir or check for doneness. Any leftovers should be stored promptly in shallow containers in the refrigerator.

If time is short, here’s a quick and easy slow cooker recipe that eliminates the need to chop and dice.
Easy Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup

1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
1 16-ounce can stewed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 can beef broth and 1 can water
1 package frozen mixed vegetables

Mix all above ingredients together in a slow cooker and cook on low seven to nine hours.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving contains 210 calories, 10 grams of fat, 18 grams of carbohydrate and 4 grams of fiber.