I may be a dietitian, but that doesn’t mean that my diet is flawless. Don’t get me wrong—I try to practice what I preach, but I also realize eating right is about progress not perfection. Planning for and preparing family meals has been a challenge in my home that has taken my wife and me some time to manage.  But with time and some planning, we’ve figured out a routine that allows us to prepare almost all of our meals and snacks at home.  And the payoffs have been great for our whole family.

 

Planning for meals means that we (my wife and four daughters) have a chance to sit together, talk and enjoy a homemade meal. Unfortunately, this is getting less and less common in the United States. Research shows that family meals help children adopt healthier eating patterns while reducing risk for obesity.

 

HOW TO PREPARE BALANCED FAMILY MEALS

An easy way to create healthy meals is by using the templates from USDA’s MyPlate The Healthy Plate

They both take into account balance, portion sizes and variety of food groups we all need.  The Healthy Plate is one that I use daily and it’s similar to MyPlate, with subtle differences in the vegetable and fruit groups. Here’s how I put these templates into practice with my family meals:

Breakfast

We look for convenient breakfasts as we don’t’ have time to spare in the a.m. One of my family’s favorite first meals includes oatmeal with milk and almonds, a soy sausage patty and a piece of fruit.  Another is whole grain cold cereal with soymilk, turkey sausage and a piece of fruit.  All the food groups—minus vegetables—are represented in these breakfasts.

Lunch

We home-school our daughters, so they eat three of five weekday meals at home. They helped assemble these whole-wheat Lavash pizzas that are topped with broccoli and low-fat cheese.

 

Snack

   

The girls are primed and ready for a refuel by this time. Sometimes it’s just fruit or vegetables (or perhaps a muffin they helped bake), but today there was more variety as they had whole-wheat crackers, nonfat plain Greek yogurt, baby carrots and apple slices.

 

Dinner

 

We were able to visit Singapore recently and my wife and I desperately wanted to healthfully recreate many dishes. One straightforward one is called “Hainanese Chicken Rice. Simple, but spicy as we love it! A simple roasted bok choy recipe rounds out the meal.

One of the major benefits of making your own meals is that you always shave leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch! I enjoyed the Bok Choy as part of my lunch the next day.

 

After dinner

 

This is when the girls get their multivitamin. I recognize these are supplements and not substitutes for nutrition in the form of whole food. However, even on days when all of their meals and snacks go as planned, I provide them a supplement to make up for any potential nutrient gaps.

We don’t remember how it started, but a few years ago, the girls started dancing before receiving their “vities” (we pronounce it, “vy-tees”). Every night, when it’s vitie time, they stop what they’re doing, run over, get in line, and start moovin’ and groovin’ before they get their multivitamin. It’s a daily highlight!

Fiese, B. & Hammons, A. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 127, 1565-1574.

Ben Bratcher is a Registered Dietitian at Kaiser Permanente in California. He also works for Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) developing lesson plans that are incorporated into the curriculum for grades Pre K-12. As a father to four girls, Ben teaches his own children about food and how to make healthful choices, which includes attending to a fruit and vegetable garden that boasts 29 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

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