Although the convenience of the drive-thru window may be appealing on your way home from picking up the kids, beware! Fast food and other convenience options are generally full of bad-for-you saturated fats and sugar, and low in the nutrients you and your family need to keep your energy up and your brains engaged.
Unfortunately, children in our country are not getting the nutrition they need. Recent surveys tell us that approximately 40% of teens consume fruits and vegetables less than once per day, and that on average, teens get about 17% of their daily caloric intake from fast food. This is particularly troubling, as 12.7 million children ages two to 19 in US are obese.
Want to improve your family’s diet? Family meals are a fun way to do this!
A bonus is that you get to spend some much-needed quality time with your family. Research shows us that children in families that eat meals together without distractions, such as the television or smart phones, are less likely to be obese.When it comes to simple, healthy meals that appeal to everyone in the family, homemade pizzas are always a winner.
In fact, not only will everyone love this dish, everyone can participate and enjoy some family time. Creating individual homemade pizzas is a great opportunity for everyone to showcase their creativity and personality!
You can provide toppings based on what your family likes; just be sure you have a variety of veggies—the morecolors, the better! Include one or two new toppings (perhaps olives or chopped fresh basil), as well as one or two well-known and accepted toppings, such as diced tomatoes, spinach or bell peppers. This will encourage the adventurous eaters to try new things, and the cautious and picky eaters to not feel overwhelmed.
Encourage your kids to try new toppings on a small portion of their pizza, so if they don’t like it, they haven’t “ruined” their pizza. Even if your kids don’t try all the veggies the first time, keep offering them. Research has shown that the more we expose (read: by offering, not forcing) children to foods they don’t like, the more likely they are to like and eat them over time.
Timesaver tip: Buy whole grain pre-made dough at the grocery store or make the dough and prep the veggies the night before. This way, you can simply enjoy making the pizzas during family meal night.
Here are some suggestions for family dinner night:
- Start small: With tight schedules, it may be challenging to have family meals on a daily basis, so start with one night per week, ideally Monday. Why Monday? Because studies show that Monday is the day people are receptive to adopting healthy new habits. A nonprofit initiative called Kids Cook Monday encourages families to set aside the first night of every week for cooking and eating together as a family. When kids pitch in making meals, they are empowered to consider the portions, the vitamins and the nutrients of what they’re eating.
- Time matters: Currently, the average dinnertime lasts approximately 12 minutes—not enough time! Try to allot at least 30 minutes for family dinner night.
- Turn off electronics and other distractions: One of the major reasons to have family mealtime is socialization. Power off your electronics and require that everyone do the same.
- Be patient: Not everyone may be as excited about family mealtime as you are. There may be complaining and whining at first, but over time, this will become a habit—and one that everyone is likely going to look forward to in the future.
- Be a good role model: Remember, your kids learn from your eating behaviors. Children of parents who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables are less likely to be picky eaters, and more likely to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
For free recipes, e-cookbooks and other downloads to make every Monday family dinner night check out TheKidsCookMonday.org.
Sarah Gonzalez-Nahm, PhD, MPH, RD is a dietitian and postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.