Research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that children in families who eat three or more meals together per week are 24 percent more likely to consume healthful foods and display healthful dietary habits. Other research shows the odds of being overweight or obese decrease 12 percent for children who participate in three or more family meals per week.
With unhealthy food consumption and childhood obesity rates being high, family mealtime and its positive effects on these factors become even more important.
Preparing healthful meals for your family doesn’t need to be difficult. “The Family Table,” an initiative of the North Dakota State University Extension Service, has resources at www.ag.ndsu.edu/familytable to help you plan and prepare healthful meals.
Here are some tips to ease the process:
- Figure out which days (and meals) work best for your family to eat together each week. Try for at least three meals per week, and preferably more!
- Plan your meals. Find a day that works for you to sit down and plan meals for the entire week. Choose recipes that contain similar fresh foods. For example, if you are making a pasta recipe that contains spinach, find other recipes that use spinach or serve a spinach salad one day. This eliminates waste of fresh produce, which also saves money.
- Serve fruit as a dessert for your family meal. Because fruits contain natural sugars, they satisfy the sweet tooth. Try healthful options such as fruit smoothies and yogurt parfaits. Allow your children to help or make their own, which turns dessert into a fun family activity.
- Take chances. Don’t be afraid that your kids won’t like what you make. How about some Grilled Mediterranean Pizza? Children and adolescents want their parents to serve healthful meals, according to researchers studying family mealtimes. Now is the time to try something new and get feedback during your meal together.
- Have fun! Family meals aren’t supposed to be stressful. They are meant to be an opportunity for family bonding, interaction and growth. Enjoy your time together.
Eating meals as a family on a regular basis is important for many reasons, including making sure your family is consuming a healthful, nutritious diet. Take these helpful hints and challenge your family to dine together at least three times per week.
Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/familytable to learn more about “The Family Table.” Eat, connect and savor at the family table. Join the challenges and sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips. Follow the program on Facebook for more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals.
Grilling season is coming soon. Here’s a fun recipe to try with your family.
3 c. whole-wheat flour (all-purpose)
1 (.25-ounce) package active dry yeast
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (packed)
1½ c. warm water
*To save time, you can purchase store-bought pizza crust or flatbread.
Combine all dry ingredients together and stir until mixed thoroughly. Add warm water (approximately 120 F) and oil to dry ingredients and mix until the dough thickens. On a floured surface, knead the dough 15 to 20 times. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
Grilled Mediterranean Pizza
1 Tbsp. corn meal
1 large zucchini
1½ Tbsp. olive oil
½ Tbsp. minced garlic
½ c. Italian blend shredded cheese
½ c. fresh mozzarella (sliced ¼ inch thick)
½ medium red onion
1½ c. cherry tomatoes (sliced)
¼ c. fresh basil (1 Tbsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (optional)
Pinch of black pepper
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Wash the zucchini and red onion under cool water. Cut the zucchini into halves. Peel the onion before cutting into ¼-inch-thick rings. Cut as flat as possible to cover more surface area on the grill. In a large bowl or edged baking pan, lightly brush the onion and zucchini with ½ Tbsp. olive oil. Let stand for five to 10 minutes. Place face down on the grill for six to eight minutes each side or until tender. Remove from grill and cut into pizza-size topping. In a small bowl, mix 1 Tbsp. olive oil and ½ Tbsp. garlic.
Turn the grill to high heat. Divide the dough into four equal portions and press on a floured surface into 6-inch circles. Lightly sprinkle corn meal on one side of each crust. Grill the side without the cornmeal for one to two minutes until blistered. Flip the pizza crust and grill for an additional one to two minutes.
Reduce grill to medium-high heat. Remove the crust from the grill and brush the top of each one with garlic oil mixture. Add toppings: Italian cheese blend, zucchini, onion and mozzarella. Grill for four to five minutes or until cheese is melted or golden brown. Top with basil, black pepper and drizzle with balsamic vinegar (optional).
Julie Garden-Robinson is a Professor and Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.