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Benefits of home-cooked meals far outweigh effort

Article Published: Feb. 3, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Benefits of home-cooked meals far outweigh effort

One hundred years ago, all that was available for dinner was local, organic, unprocessed food.

The pigs, cows and chickens were grass fed, and their manure was used to fertilize crops. No packaged, microwaveable dinners were in the frozen food section.

Our grandparents learned from their parents how to preserve and prepare simple food. You could pronounce each ingredient.

Every evening, there was a gathering at the dinner table. Families talked to immediate and extended family and friends about the events of the day. In 1900, 2 percent of meals were eaten outside the home compared to 50 percent in 2010.

In the past, most families had someone responsible for getting family meals on the table. My grandma took such pride presenting us with at least six dishes for weekend dinners. Watching us gorge on the food she lovingly prepared brought her pleasure.

There are still a few families that decide this arrangement is beneficial, but the majority of families are headed by one or two working parents. Without a "person in charge," and more disposable income available, many find it's more practical to grab a meal on-the-go, especially during the week. Even if there's no baseball game or other event to get to, a prepared meal with throw-away dishes may be pretty tempting for tired souls.

Simply prepared dinners made from fresh ingredients will help tired families become more energetic. Eating high quality food makes us feel so much better. Family members benefit by working together as a team; setting the table, washing dishes, and preparing their own lunches for the next day.

By sitting down together for a meal, children learn about what their parents think is important, good manners, and how to communicate with adults. Dinner time may be the only chance to talk about the events of the day. Establishing positive relationships with children at an early age has been shown to continue throughout adulthood.

Research shows that children who have regular meals with their parents do better in every way, from better grades to healthier relationships and staying out of trouble. They are 42 percent less likely to drink, 50 percent less likely to smoke and 66 percent less likely to smoke marijuana. Regular family dinners protect girls from bulimia, anorexia and diet pills. Family dinners also reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.

Making a commitment to increase the number of times that you sit down together, no matter where you are now, is worth the effort. Decide on a set dinner time. Create a special place to sit down together, setting the table with care and respect.

Gather recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare. Cooking large batches on the weekends and freezing for busy weekdays is another good option.

Here is a recipe that takes about 20 minute to prepare, enjoyed by all of my family members.

Spinach and Bean Burritos


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 oz. fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can refried beans
10 oz. enchilada sauce
1 package cheddar cheese (made with reduced fat milk)
6 whole wheat flour tortillas
Avocado, if desired

Place large skillet over low heat. Add olive oil and chopped garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until blonde. Add chopped spinach and stir. Add oregano, cumin and salt. Stir occasionally until spinach is cooked, 3 to 5 minutes.

Place refried beans in microwaveable container with a lid. Add enchilada sauce and cook until thoroughly heated in microwave, two minutes or so.

Spread refried beans down the middle of a tortilla, then spinach mixture and cheese as desired. Place in microwave just long enough to heat cheese and tortilla, 30 seconds. Top with avocado, if chosen, and fold burrito to serve.
Makes 6 burritos.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups and is the local food coordinator for Watauga County. To contact Margie, e-mail or call (828) 264-3061.

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