If sitting down for a homemade family meal has gone from something you routinely enjoy to something you barely squeeze in, you’re not alone. Even I, a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, experience this more often with my increasingly independent teenage sons and their ever-changing weekly schedules.
Eating with family is associated with healthier dietary outcomes among children, adolescents and adults. In fact, a study published in Appetite in 2012 found a link between frequent family meals and higher produce intake among parents, as well as reduced fast-food intake among fathers and less dieting and binge eating among mothers. Cooking at home more might also curb calorie intake—something especially helpful during the holidays when high-calorie, nutrient-poor food is ubiquitous. A study published in Public Health Nutrition found that adults who lived in households in which someone cooked dinner six to seven times a week consumed fewer calories, fat and sugar than those who lived in households in which someone cooked dinner once or not at all.
If you’ve fallen off the family meal wagon and want to get back on, the tips below can help you do just that in the New Year and beyond:
1. Sync your calendars.
At the end of each weekend, have a family meeting to discuss schedules and plan as many shared meals as you can for the upcoming week. Be sure to include any combination of breakfasts, lunches and dinners—they all count! Making it a priority to plan ahead shows everyone how important family meals really are.
2. Get inspired.
For fresh, family-friendly meal ideas, invest in a good cookbook such as Clean Eating for Busy Families by Michelle Dudash, R.D., or The Big Green Cookbook by Jackie Newgent, R.D. You can also find delicious and nutritious recipes online from natural-foods chef Pamela Salzman. To save time while grocery shopping (and maybe expand your family’s palate), you can also opt for meal-delivery services such as Blue Apron or Plated. After choosing seasonal recipes that appeal to you, all of the fresh, preportioned ingredients needed to cook your meal will arrive right at your door.
3. Put quality before quantity.
Even if your family’s work and school schedules don’t always mesh, making an effort to set aside several five-minute breakfasts and 15-minute at-home dinners is better than leaving meals to chance. Having mix-and-match breakfast foods—hardboiled eggs, fruit, whole-grain cereals, plain yogurt and peanut butter, for example—on hand can ease the morning rush. For dinner, try slow-cooker meals. Soups made with any combination of vegetables, beans, lean beef and skinless chicken are perfect one-stop options.
4. Multitask at the table.
Whether you have to read something for work or help your child with his or her math homework, simply sitting beside each other at the table before, during or after mealtimes can foster feelings of togetherness. When you’re actually eating, it’s wise to put down the work so you can focus on your food and family. But spending at least some time together in the same room at the start or end of your day is a great way to stay connected.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Elisa Zied is an award-winning New York State certified dietitian nutritionist and the author of Younger Next Week (Harlequin Nonfiction) and three other consumer titles. A past spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, she received a bachelor's in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in clinical nutrition from New York University. For more than two decades, she has garnered millions of media impressions through her TV appearances, articles and blogs. Having recently discovered her passion for reading and writing fiction, she is currently working on her first novel. She lives in New York City with her husband of 24 years and her two sons. When she’s not reading, she enjoys long walks and hikes, hula hooping, seeing Broadway shows and movies, attending book signings and festivals, and interviewing her favorite authors for her Food, Fitness & Fiction blog.