For the health and well-being of your family, there is perhaps no better habit to adopt (or reignite!) than regularly cooking and eating together.
Not only are the meals served at family dinners typically more nutritious, but kids who regularly eat with their families tend to do better in school, have lower rates of trying illicit substances and report stronger bonds with their parents.
Kids who are given the opportunity to contribute to cooking the family meal are not only more likely to eat it once it’s served, but they’ll also gain the skills they need to cook nutritious meals for themselves and their own families down the line.
So now that you’re inspired to make family meals a part of your routine, here are a few simple ways to figure out where to start.
1. Don’t overthink it.
Family dinners don’t need to be three or even two-course affairs. Simple, nutritious meals like these Egg Salad Florentine Sandwiches can come together in about 20 minutes and be a real crowd-pleaser.
Try polling your family about the simple foods they love to eat (and cook!) the most, then make a go-to list of meals you can prepare together.
2. Rely on pantry staples.
This Cheesy Zucchini Black Bean Skillet is built from ingredients that are easy to keep on hand: canned tomatoes and black beans, rice, even shredded cheese. Just dice up some zucchini (or substitute another seasonal vegetable) and you’ve got dinner! Stock up on the ingredients you need to make the meals your family loves the most and you’ll always have a great dinner option in your back pocket.
3. You don’t have to cook from scratch.
Plenty of prepped items from the store are just as nutritious as they would be if you’d made them yourself. Just read the ingredients list—if it sounds like the list for a recipe you could cook (given the luxury of more time, of course) it’s likely a good choice. Pre-made items like jarred sauces, bagged salads and stuffed ravioli, like those used in this Ravioli with Parsley Pesto, can be lifesavers for weeknight meals!
Are you noticing a theme? Keep it simple.
With everything you and your family members are juggling, adding a complex family meal to the day’s activities could actually be a recipe for disaster! Instead, focus on simple meals that feature protein, veggies and whole grains.
Dedicate at least one night of the week to be your family cooking night—in the end, it will not only equip them with a valuable life skill, but help them recognize the effort that goes in to getting a good meal on the table!
Visit TheKidsCookMonday.org for more recipes, check out the free weekly newsletter and explore the The Kids Cook Monday School Program as a way to help your whole school develop a culture of regular family meals.
Diana K. Rice, RD is the registered dietitian on staff with The Kids Cook Monday, a nonprofit initiative of The Monday Campaigns that seeks to encourage kids in the kitchen and regular family meals. She is mom to a young daughter, whom she likes to refer to as her “future sous chef.”