Family meals provide more than nutrition

Article Published: Sep. 20, 2012 | Modified: Sep. 20, 2012

For those who share a home, sitting down to a meal together may nourish the body and soul. There is nothing quite like sharing events of the day with someone who is interested.

But employment and academic obligations, athletic events and extracurricular activities often interfere with the dinner gathering.

For families with children, scientific researchers tell us that regular meals together will reduce the risk for teenage depression, pregnancy and alcohol and drug abuse, while increasing academic achievement.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the main issue is for parents and caregivers to make a daily connection. Finding a routine time to communicate with children is imperative.

The findings also suggest that the effects of family dinners on children depend on the extent to which parents use the time to engage with their children and learn about their day-to-day lives. Eating dinner while being distracted, such as watching a TV show or game, doesn’t have the same benefits.

Nutritionally, family meals inspire us to try a greater variety of food. All people, no matter what age, tend to eat familiar and easily prepared foods when left alone. Who wants to spend a great deal of time and energy in the kitchen if there is nobody to share with?

When children are developing their palates, lack of variety may lead to picky, unhealthy eating. If left alone to prepare what they desire and have the skill for, processed foods, typically high in sodium and fat, may win.

Making dinner connections may be impossible due to scheduling issues. Try checking in during breakfast, a healthy snack or even beverage. Time in the car together may be the only chance to communicate.

Even if family members are eating at different times, having prepared recipes that only need to be heated provides better nutrition and variety. Think of such recipes as “planned-overs” instead of leftovers. Cooking twice as much than needed at a meal is smart, since two meals are on hand for just a little bit more effort.

This simple soup recipe takes only 20 minutes to prepare. It serves six, but I like to double the amount for more than one dinner and to pack in lunches.

Noodles Lo Mein

3 tablespoons dark sesame oil

8 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes (If you don’t like tofu, use chicken breast.)

1 large clove minced garlic

1 small onion, chopped

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

4 cans chicken or vegetable broth

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

3 tablespoons teriyaki sauce

1 pound bag frozen Oriental-style vegetables

8 ounces linguine of choice (fresh tastes best, whole grain is healthiest)

Heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil over medium heat and sauté tofu or chicken for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden on all sides.

In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic.

Saute until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add ginger, then broth, red pepper, teriyaki sauce and turn heat to high.

Once boiling, add linguine (If using dried. Fresh may be added at very end to boil for 3 minutes).
Bring back to a boil and cook 6 minutes.

Add bag of Oriental-style vegetables and cook until they are a nice texture, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in browned tofu or chicken and serve.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D,. is a registered dietitian and nutritionist and extension agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. For more information, email or call (828) 264-3061.

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