Family Meal Month: Making meals, making memories

Are family meals a lost art? In our world today, with fast-paced lives, busy work schedules and extracurricular activities, drive-thru meals and takeout food have become the norm. What impact does this have on our kids, our families, and ourselves? As the trend moves toward simplicity and convenience, let’s not overlook the fact that preparing and eating meals together stimulates communication, creates memories, and establishes healthy eating behaviors that have a long-lasting impact.

Research shows that when families eat meals together on a regular basis, they have greater unity and closer relationships. Children in families who eat together are better adjusted to the pressures of society, and are more comfortable and confident in their own skin. The long-term nutritional benefits for individuals who have grown up eating family meals are clear too. The percentage of family members who are overweight, or abuse alcohol or drugs, is significantly lower in families who eat meals together on a regular basis than those who don’t.

Historically, traditional family meals were part of an everyday ritual, like brushing teeth. Homemade meals were prepared from scratch, dinner was served at the same time every night, and family members had assigned seats. Lessons and wisdom were shared over the dinner table. Children grew in their character, manners, self-discipline, and gratitude.

When schedules are busy, and time is at a premium, there is still hope for the family meal. September is National Family Meals Month, which means it’s the perfect time to start making family meals a normal occurrence in your home. Here are a few tips on how to do it:

Pick one or two days a week for everyone to commit to.

Pick a recipe and side dishes the family can agree on. Choose foods from all food groups, and foods that vary in color, taste, and texture to increase nutritional benefit.

Choose a recipe that allows for convenience. Slow-cooker meals, casseroles, and grilled meats are all good ideas. Check out all Hy-Vee has to offer for fast, easy, and healthy meals. New this month, New Ulm Hy-Vee will be selling “DISH to GO” meals; these are dietitian and chef created healthy meals for the whole family.

Plan for conversation starters. For example, have everyone go around the table and say one thing they are grateful for, or share an interesting story from their day.

Keep everyone in touch by turning the television off and having a “no phones at the dinner table” policy.

Za’atar-Roasted Chicken Tenders and Vegetables with Couscous

Serves 4 (3 ounces chicken, 2 cups vegetables and 1/2 cup couscous each)

All you need:

1 medium navel orange

1 pound trimmed green beans

1 medium red onion, halved and sliced

1/2 cup Kalamata or Castelvetrano olives

2 tbsp Hy-Vee Select extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp dry white wine

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground pepper, divided

1 pound Hy-Vee boneless chicken breast tenders

1 tbsp za’atar (see Tip)

1 cup Hy-Vee low-sodium chicken broth

2/3 cup whole-wheat couscous

All you do:

1. Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Grate 2 teaspoons zest from orange. Slice 1/2 inch off the ends and squeeze juice from them into a medium saucepan; add the zest. Set aside.

3. Cut the rest of the orange in half, then cut into 1/4-inch slices. Toss in a large bowl with green beans, onion, olives, oil, wine, salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the prepared pan. Toss chicken with za’atar in the bowl, then place on top of the green bean mixture.

4. Roast on the bottom rack until the green beans are tender and the chicken is no longer pink in the middle, about 15 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, add broth and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve with the chicken and vegetables.

Tips & Notes

Spice blends like za’atar give you big flavor from just one ingredient. It is a mix of thyme, sumac, salt, sesame seeds and sometimes other herbs. To make your own mix, blend 1 teaspoon each ground sumac, sesame seeds and dried thyme with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Nutrition Facts per serving: 436 calories, 16g fat, 3g saturated fat, 63mg cholesterol, 583mg sodium, 43g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 7g sugars, 32g protein.

Daily values: 56% vitamin C, 18% iron.

Source: adapted from EatingWell, Inc.

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The information is not intended as medical advice.

Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

Laura Schmidt is a registered dietitian representing Hy-Vee as a nutrition expert promoting healthy eating throughout the community.

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