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LIVE HEALTHY HARTSVILLE: September is family meals month

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Kim Alton


September is National Family Meals Month, and I would like to encourage you to strive for just one more family meal at home each week during this month.

Now that our children are back in school, fall sports have begun and all the other after-school activities are getting ready to kick into high gear, eating meals together can be a little more challenging.

Despite the challenges of being able to sit down together as a family and eat, we know that there are numerous benefits to having family meals that reach beyond nutrition.

Family meals can improve both mental and physical health.

Eating together allows parents or caregivers to influence and improve eating choices, allows them to model good behavior with eating habits, and helps to build on healthy relationships. Family meals have been shown to lower risk of depression, increase resilience and improve self-esteem.

Families who can disconnect from all the technology and spend time together over a meal have better bonded relationships. This is a great opportunity to learn more about each other and build relationships.

It also gives children an opportunity to work on their social skills including learning table manners and how to have a conversation. If you have family or cultural traditions, this is an opportunity to explore those further. Children are curious; feed their minds as well as their bodies.

When families eat three or more meals together per week, there is less likelihood of their children to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use marijuana. Additionally, the more meals had together per week improves test scores – from kindergarten-age through the teen years.

With childhood overweight and obesity continuing to trend up, family meals have been associated with lower rates of obesity.

Portion control is better achieved with family meals at home and again the quality of the food consumed is improved as well. These family meals become an opportunity to make sure that all the appropriate nutrients are being received.

Helping your child grow into a confident and healthy adult is a goal that as parents we strive for. Allowing your child to become part of the meal planning and prepping process begins to teach them skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.

Family mealtimes can also be used as a time to stimulate your child’s brain as well.

With so much of our communication being done electronically day, the younger generation is losing out on the art of conversation. Using your meal together, you can generate conversation of a multitude of topics – allowing them time to think and respond in a non-judgmental environment.

So, how do you make family meals happen? You start with a plan.

Keep in mind that not every family meal has to be an evening meal. You could plan family breakfast for the weekend days. A picnic lunch on a non-school day could be part of your plan.

The point is by not locking yourself into one particular meal period, you open up the possibilities of what you can accomplish.

To start your plan, you need to determine what days of the week you are most likely going to be preparing a meal.

Once you have done this, think of the foods that you would like to prepare. Get feedback from all the family members on meal ideas, this helps guarantee that the choices made are universally liked by all.

After you have decided on your meal options review what items you already have in your pantry or freezer and then make your grocery list.

If you like to big batch cook, take the time to prepare a few things that can go in your freezer and then you thaw them and reheat them for busier days. Do some prep work — chop veggies or slice meats ahead of time. This way all you must do is put your food items together on cooking day.

Think of meal ideas in terms of themes such as Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesdays, Wellness Wednesday, or Foodie Friday. This gives you a little bit of structure as you are thinking of items to make, but leaves it open enough to look at a wide variety of options.

Running short on time? Mix and match convenience items with something easy to put together at home.

Buy frozen pizza and put a salad together at home. Get microwave rice and frozen stir fry vegetables and then add your own meat.

If you have an air fryer – dust it off and use it. You can do so much in this handy kitchen gadget. Air fryers are small convection ovens. I love to roast vegetables in mine and this week I made steak fajita nachos with it. Unsure of cooking time – do a search in your internet browser. Simply put the food in you want to cook – add air fryer to the search. Plenty of recipes will pop up.

Family time is important.

Family meals set the stage for our children to grow in healthier environments and learn skills that will be beneficial to them throughout their lives.

Our definition of family has changed over the years and when COVID hit, the way we gathered changed too. We are better when we are together – making family meals a priority is an A+ way to improve you and your family’s health.

Until next time … Live Healthy!

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