At Home with the Ziering’s is very excited to introduce you to our guest blogger Dr. Tanya Altmann! Not only is she the founder and owner of Calabasas Pediatrics but she is one of the amazing authors of What to Feed Your Baby! I am so happy to share with you some of her amazing tips for how to make family meals work for your busy life.
By Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP and Beth Saltz, MPH, RD
Authors of What to Feed Your Baby, A Pediatrician’s Guide to the 11 Essential Foods to Guarantee Veggie-Loving, No-Fuss, Healthy-Eating Kids Link to Book
We all have our own type of modern family. Whether you run a single-parent household, juggle the schedules of two working parents, or schlep around kids with hectic schedules, you’re busy. Trying to balance school, jobs, activities and homework often means your family’s nutrition suffers.
Busy or not, the hard truth is that family meals are healthy for all ages. Studies show that families who eat dinner together actually have better communication, lower rates of obesity, fewer picky eaters and eat healthier food. I guarantee that trying even a few of our 10 tips below will help your family enjoy the health benefits of a family meal.
Here are our favorite 10 ways to make eating as a family easier, so everyone can enjoy a meal together.
Doesn’t have to be dinner
Crazy work schedules and late kid activities can make weeknight dinner a challenge. If dinner is too daunting for you right now, lose the guilt and pick a different family meal focus. Weekend breakfasts start a busy Saturday or Sunday off right. After-school snacks can become a late lunch together. Or, grill outside on Sunday evenings.
Use grocery store time savers
Pre-prepped products like rotisserie chicken, steam-in-the-bag veggies or rice, and bags of salad are fantastic time savers. They are very nutritious, and these products can help you get a meal on the table in less than 10 minutes. Beth’s favorite time saver for rotisserie chicken is a disposable (food-safe) glove! Throw on the gloves and pull your chicken apart—it’s quicker and easier than carving and there’s no knife to clean. Grocery store fresh pizza dough is also amazing. Don’t feel guilty using these prepped-for-you products.
Make it Routine
Dr. Tanya’s family does daddy BBQ night on Sundays and family breakfast on Saturday mornings. That’s our modern family routine. The kids wake up on Saturday expecting to have a “special” family breakfast to kick off the weekend and I love it when we all gather in our pj’s for my Challah French Toast and eggs.
Bring the Kids into the Kitchen
Involve your kids at every age. Toddlers can pour and mash ingredients. Preschoolers can count items and tear lettuce. Younger elementary school kids can find and stir ingredients and color a menu. Older kids can read recipe aloud, help prepare a meal and even write a menu. Kids love to name a dish after themselves (ie Zoe’s vegetable lasagna) and explain the menu to the rest of the family. Move kid safe plates and cups to a low cupboard so your kids can easily set table. Teach your kids to not only set the table, but to help clear it, too.
Super Simple Meals
You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to get a great meal on the table. You don’t even have to be very creative. It’s fine to serve very basic dishes. In the book, we have a chapter called Modern Family Meals, where you can get ideas for simple meals to put on your table in no time.
Media and Meals don’t mix. The dining table should be a media free zone. Turn off the TV, put away phones and tablets so everyone can enjoy each other’s time and have conversations about what was fun and challenging at school and what they are looking forward to this weekend.
One Meal for All
Don’t be a short-order cook. Make one meal and if anyone doesn’t like it, that’s okay. A parent’s job is to offer healthy choices. A child’s job is to eat what he wants from those choices. If your child only looks at or tastes a dish, that’s okay. Keep it up and he will eventually eat. Don’t worry, he won’t starve.
Try a Self-Serve Bar
Taco bar is a Friday night favorite in my family. All items are prepared, in bowls on the counter and everyone can go down the line add what they like to their own tortilla. Try a salad or pizza bar. It’s a great way to expose your children to a variety of healthy items and let them customize their plate. Bars are great for breakfast too—try a yogurt bar, an oatmeal bar and even a pancake bar. For lunch, try a burger bar with healthy turkey burgers, toppings and side dishes.
Love your Leftovers
As a busy working mom, Dr. Tanya cooks 2 or 3 times a week, and her family has leftovers the other nights. Sometimes we have a smorgasbord night of all the leftovers in the kitchen. The kids love the choices and I love that I don’t have to cook every night!
Adjust Schedule Once a Week
If your family’s schedule is truly so crazy that you can’t carve out any time for a few meals together during the week, it is probably time to make a few adjustments. A child’s schedule can change. Maybe she needs to pick just 2 of her 3 weekly activities to continue with, and understand that there must also be room for family time. Perhaps a babysitter can take a child to one activity while the parent stays home and preps a meal. Maybe tutoring could take place at home rather than elsewhere. Perhaps a parent could change a work schedule once a week to be home for a meal. There are many creative solutions if the reward is important to you—eating healthy meals as a family!
*For more Healthy Meal Ideas, check out our post about Healthy Lunch Ideas