When it comes to healthy eating for you and your family, the approach is certainly a team effort. Nutritious family meals can support every member of the family. Family mealtime offers one meal that can incorporate everyone’s food preferences and avoid parents and caregivers from being short order cooks. Let’s say goodbye to having the “kid’s” meal and the “adult” meal (unless, of course, there is a food allergy involved or food safety comes into play… more on that later!). Here are 5 tips to help you shape the most nutritious family meals for every member in your household.
1. Include fruits and vegetables at every meal
Incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into children’s meals as soon as they start eating solids helps to create a custom. Eating different fruits and vegetables becomes the routine for all family members and over time, a meal almost feels “empty” without fruits and vegetables filling half of your plate. Don’t worry if you have older children or only adults in your family. It’s never too late to incorporate more fruits and vegetables and start a new routine!
2. Be a role model
Family members, especially children, will be more inclined to eat the family meal when they see their parents, caregivers, family members, etc. also eating the same meal. We want to be good role models for our children and family members, so we have to lead the way. For example, on homemade pizza night, children will be more responsive to eating the salad on the table if they see the adults eating the same.
3. Make one meal and stick to it
In order for family meals to be successful and simple, one meal should be prepared. Family members will quickly learn that only one meal is being prepared and there are no alternates. To help make the one meal a success, meal planning can include other family members. For example, each family member can pick a day and choose the menu. This helps to ensure everyone’s preferences are being accounted. Of course food allergies and taste preferences should always be taken into account. If there’s a food allergy, the food item should be avoided from the meal. If a family member has a specific taste preference, that item could be left out or added later. For example, a family member may dislike mushrooms. If stir-fry is for dinner, then the meal can be prepared and portioned out for that person and then finished with mushrooms for the remaining family members. When it comes to food safety, all precautions should be taken. Infants less than 1 year of age should not be given honey or foods containing honey. Young children’s meals need special attention to ensure all foods with choking hazards are avoided and meals are provided in bite-size pieces. Raw and undercooked foods such as meat and eggs should be avoided, but especially for children and older adults.
4. Cook in bulk and freeze leftovers for busy nights
When it comes to busy schedules, sometimes we’re faced with cooking very late or with little time. When you meal prep, you set yourself up for success for such days. Recipes can be doubled or tripled to portion and freeze extras to have on hand for busy nights. Even cooking and freezing staples such as rice, barley, beans, or quinoa can be very helpful to grab and go when you’re short on time. For example, it could be very helpful to have beans pre-cooked and ready to use on burrito night or have quinoa pre-cooked to quickly prepare a salad without having to start from scratch.
5. Recruit help
We all need help when it comes to family meals and extra hands can help bring success to mealtime. Adults, teens, adolescents, and even young children can be excellent helpers in the kitchen and dining room. Young children can set the table and set out condiments and other items. In addition, adolescents can help set the table, wash fruits and vegetables, pull out ingredients, wash dishes, and load the dishwasher. Teenagers and young adults can add extra help by chopping vegetables, washing pots and pans, and cleaning up as the meal is prepared. Other adults can help with meal prep by dividing and conquering the recipe. For example, one adult can chop the vegetables and prep items, while the other family member is in charge of stove top items such as preparing the sauce, cooking pasta, etc. Help from family members can promote pride. Children learn responsibility and they may be more inclined to eat the family meal after having contributed help.
When you receive your custom Nuleeu meal plan, use these tips to help speed up your meal prep or apply these tips on busy days and nights when plans may change unexpectedly. During your nutrition consultation, your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can also walk through additional family meal tips and provide individual recommendations for you and your family to ensure mealtime success!
-Elizabeth Fay, MS, RDN, CNSC