More than a decade of research from the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has found that the more often children eat dinner with their families the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. On Monday, Sept. 23 parents are encouraged to connect with their kids through family dinner. Sitting down to dinner together offers an opportunity to connect, share and listen to what kids have on their mind.
Family dinners don’t have to be elaborate and time consuming. Coordinating schedules for family dinner time is a challenge, so you’ll want to keep things simple in the kitchen. Here are a few ideas.
When you need a meal on the table fast, skillet meals are an easy answer. The starch, vegetables, meat, or plant protein is all cooked in one pan. Preparation time is minimal and cooking time is usually less than 30 minutes! Macaroni, couscous, instant rice, and frozen hash browns all work well in skillet meals. Use a heavy nonstick skillet with a lid. For every 1 cup of starch add 1 cup of cooking liquid such as V-8 juice, low sodium chicken broth, or a low fat soup like black bean or vegetable. The source of protein can be cooked poultry, seafood, lean meat or beans. (Skillet meals are a great way to use leftover meat.) Throw in whatever frozen vegetables your family likes, cover and cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed, usually about 20 to 30 minutes depending on your choice of starch.
Another easy way to get dinner on the table is to make larger portions when you cook. If you’re making a beef pot roast on Sunday, use extra beef and shred the leftovers to mix with frozen vegetables and tomatoes later in the week for a fast and hearty stew. The next time you fire up the grill, cook extra meat to make fajitas later in the week. Slice leftover grilled steak, chicken or pork across the grain in thin strips and reheat in a skillet with sliced onions and green pepper then wrap in a tortilla.
A precooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery is a real time saver. Serve with minute rice, steamed vegetables and fresh or canned fruit for a quick, healthy meal. Or you can take the chicken off the bone as an ingredient in chicken tacos or quesadillas.
If a fast food drive up is the only way you’ll have time to gather your family for dinner, look for healthier choices. A small sandwich, a side salad and milk is a good choice at most fast food restaurants. If you order fries, share a large order as a family. When pizza is on the menu, try a thin crust to save calories and drink milk instead of pop.
The bottom line is that communication around the dinner table can have a profound and lasting effect on your kids. Connect with your kids over a family dinner on Monday, September 23 and then keep the tradition going. What your children really want at the dinner table is you!