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Make Dinnertime Matter

Posted by Stephanie Cundith, MS, RD, LD @ 10:08 AM

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There are several reasons why dinner is the meal I look forward to most.  First, lunch was hours ago and I am hungry and ready to eat!  Second, it allows for quality time with my family after a busy day.  And third, I am given a chance to cook. This may mean trying out new recipes or preparing long-standing family favorites.

That aside, it’s often still the most challenging meal to get on the table.  Time constraints and a picky five-year old are my greatest obstacles, which is why it’s important for me to serve meals that are quick to prepare, kid-friendly and nutritious.

To make the most out of dinnertime at our house, here are simple guidelines I follow:

  • Make milk the mealtime beverage.  This sets a good example for kids and can move your family closer to meeting 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations: three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products every day for people 9 and older and 2 ½ cups every day for children ages 4-8.  Dairy foods also help to close nutrient gaps in the diet.  In particular, they deliver calcium, potassium and vitamin D to our diet―three of four nutrients Americans are falling short on.
  • Ensure a nutrient-rich meal is served. Do this by incorporating the five food groups: Dairy (low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt), fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein (lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and eggs).   For a visual of this concept, take a look at MyPlate, the new food icon developed by the USDA. Note, MyPlate makes the point to serve dairy with each meal. This reinforces my first guideline!
  • Involve kids with meal preparation.  Encourage them to select recipes, measure and add ingredients, help set the table or assist with clean up.  If kids feel ownership in the process, they are more likely to be invested in eating the meal.  Take a look at these 3-Every-Day recipes for great ideas.  One of our favorites is the Turkey Tetrazzini with Cheddar and Parmesan.  Use whole-grain noodles, pair it with a side salad and sliced fruit, serve alongside a glass of fat-free milk, and voila―everyone at the table is happy!
  • Enjoy each other’s company.  Last but not least, take advantage of dinnertime to catch up with those seated around you.  Eating together not only provides relationship-building benefits, but also may have health benefits for your children. One study shows that children and adolescents who share three or more family meals per week are more likely to be of normal weight and have healthier eating patterns than those who share fewer than three family meals each week.Another study highlights the positive emotional benefits of eating healthy meals together.  You can take this time to talk about the foods you are eating and the nutrients they provide, discuss the day’s events, plan for tomorrow’s meal or find something to celebrate.  For example, this month raise your glass to toast National Dairy Month and our dairy farmers who work hard every day to produce wholesome, nutritious milk.

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