If your family is anything like mine, it is not uncommon for the five of us to be going in three different directions on certain school nights. Also, our work schedules can interfere with time for meal preparation. So it takes determination to have homemade dinners prepared for us to eat together around our dining room table.
Why are family meals so important?
Researchers from the University of Minnesota have studied family meals through Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), where they found that about a third of families with teenagers have two or less family meals each week. Family meals are associated with healthier food choices; fewer disordered eating behaviors, less substance abuse, and better psychosocial well-being among adolescents.
Tips for preparing family meals
The most important part of preparing healthy dinners is to plan ahead. Here are some meal ideas for your busy seasons in life:
1. Buy frozen meals and customize them:
- Add your own veggie toppings and grilled chicken to a frozen cheese pizza.
- Add green peppers, onions, and pineapple to frozen sesame or orange chicken, serve with brown rice.
- Add marinara or cream sauce to frozen ravioli, serve with salad and garlic bread.
2. Make homemade breakfast for dinner – be sure to add fruits or vegetables
3. Have a few “go to” recipes that you are familiar with and you know are quick and easy:
- Keep your freezer full of staples like lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and breads. Keep your pantry stocked with staples like pasta and rice. Have milk ready to go in your refrigerator.
4. For those of you who are ambitious:
- Prepare dinner in the morning and cook it in the crock pot while you are at work and the kids are at school.
- Take a weekend day or day off from work and prepare meals ahead of time in big batches. Store them in the freezer. I like to have a stash of homemade chili and marinara sauce in our freezer.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Strive for improvement, not perfection. Project EAT found that some benefits of eating meals together can be seen with as little as three meals per week.
- Eat an early dinner (right after school) or a late dinner (after practice) – whichever fits into your family’s schedule better. At least you’re eating it together.
- Weeknight dinners don’t have to be the only family meal. If a tournament isn’t occupying your weekend, try a family brunch or Sunday afternoon meal.
- Even if you’re having breakfast for dinner you can still set the table and light the candles.
- Turn off the TV during mealtime! Project EAT found that families who eat with the TV off had teenagers who ate more fruits and vegetables and less fried foods and soda.
I’m thankful that life comes in seasons. If we we’re so inclined, our kids could play competitive soccer year round. But we choose to take time off in the winter and the summer to pursue other things. Encouraging family meals is just one of many reasons why it is a good idea for young athletes to have one to two rest days per week and two to three months off from their sport per year. Learn more about overtraining and burnout in young athletes.
And you can look forward to that big milestone when your young athlete reaches high school, because practice is after school instead of during the dinner hour! Now that’s something to cheer about!
Check out more sports articles for parents, and learn more about our Sports Medicine Center.