What do you consider when planning meals? For a lot of us, it’s time…we need to get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes. For others, meals have to be healthy. But consumer research says that taste tops nutrition as the main reason why we buy one food over another. The foods we commonly eat are often those we enjoy the most. So it doesn’t matter if it’s quick or healthy, if it doesn’t taste good, we probably won’t enjoy it.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, with a little planning, preparing meals can be healthy, rewarding and cost-effective. The trick is to help enhance flavor without adding extra fat, calories or salt.
*Choose high-quality ingredients at their peak quality and be sure to store and handle foods properly.
*Try grilling or roasting veggies in a very hot (450 degrees F) oven or grill for a sweet, smoky flavor. My favorite combination is carrots, asparagus, sweet and white potatoes and broccoli. I toss them with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and garlic.
*Do you like oatmeal? Make it creamier by using fat-free milk instead of water. Mix in some raisins, dried cranberries, cherries or blueberries and sprinkle with cinnamon.
*Make sandwiches on whole-grain bread. You have lots of choices so choose whatever sounds good to you. Add slices of avocado, tomato or cucumber to lean roast beef, chicken, turkey or ham.
*Top foods with chopped toasted nuts or reduced-fat sharp cheddar to get crunch, flavor, and nutrients from the first bite.
*Take a few minutes to cut and bag fresh veggies so that they are easy for all family members to grab and go. Include red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli; cauliflower; carrots; celery sticks; cucumbers; snap peas; radishes.
*Drink nutrient-rich, low sugar beverages such as low-fat or fat-free milk, or 100% fruit juice. Drink fewer regular sodas, fruit drinks and sports drinks.
*Substitute salsa for sour cream and butter for baked potatoes. Add a sprinkle of reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese to increase flavor without a lot of fat and calories.
Research also shows that family meals promote healthier eating…more fruits, veggies, fiber, less fried food and often fewer calories. Family meals also offer the time to talk, listen and build family relationships. While it may seem impossible to get your family to eat together because of hectic schedules, here are a few tips for increasing family time:
*Start slowly. Just add one more family meal to your weekly schedule. And it doesn’t have to be dinner. You may find that a weekend breakfast or lunch works better for your family.
*Plan menus together. Let every family member choose a favorite item and then build a simple meal around them. Even small children can pick a main dish such as tacos or spaghetti that a veggie as a salad or carrots can be added with fruit for dessert.
*Make sure that you talk! Family conversations have a huge impact so share experiences and ideas. Pick topics that are positive and allow everyone to talk. Save family problems or discipline for another time.
*Turn off the TV, phones, and anything else that makes noise. They create distractions that can easily throw off your meal. Declare mealtime a TV-and phone-free zone except for emergencies.
Keep in mind that families are defined any way you want to define it. Whether it’s one or two parents with children, empty nesters, or multi-generations living together, family meals are important.
Everyone wants to be healthy. So what are you going to do to make your family meals a little healthier this week?
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.