Jena DeMoss: Raise your mitt to commit to more family meals

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, September 9, 2020

So what if dinner’s not a four-course spread, served at 6 p.m. sharp, or even on all seven nights a week? The act of sitting around the dinner table with your kids may be the single most important thing you do as a parent. Studies show that families who eat together have kids who perform better in school. In addition, they are less likely to have behavioral problems. And by following this one evening ritual, you may be protecting them against future eating disorders, substance abuses, obesity and depression.

September is National Family Meals Month, which encourages families to share one more meal together at home each week. With full schedules and both parents working, takeout is tempting. However, with a little revamping to your routine, you can serve satisfying suppers your whole tribe will want sit around the table for. Pull up a chair and find out how.

No Time? No Problem: Since when did making meals have to be time-consuming? Give yourself a solid 30 minutes and maybe keep your favorite pasta sauce in the pantry – it could just save the day. In addition, a little prep work on the weekends may be just enough to keep all things sane during the week. Cook up chicken breasts, then shred for quesadillas, tacos or a quick soup. Or consider breakfast for dinner. Eggs, pancakes, toast and fruit is not only easy — it’s quick. (And who has time for this type of meal in the morning anyway?)

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Hangry? Grab a Fruit or Veggie: This emotion is definitely real. The act of getting irritated because hunger is on the brain and in the belly has been a popular word used by many. But before you give in to a maybe not so healthy snack option before dinner, try reaching for a fruit or veggie. Kids can choose something from the produce drawer or the veggie you plan to serve with dinner.  Peppers, carrots and cucumbers can be plated the morning of so you’re ready when the hungry cries call.

Revolving Recipes: Tater tot casserole yet again? While you may have only a few tried-and-true recipes up your sleeve, it’s OK. Kids thrive on routine and they love theme nights. Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays or Leftover Thursdays are the best way to simplify your meal planning – and it takes the guesswork out of the most-asked question of the day, “What’s for dinner?”

The Mess is Real: If you have young kids, well, enough said. However, know that spilled milk and a plate worth of noodles on the floor won’t always be the norm, so continue laying the groundwork of mealtime into these small minds. In addition, eating with your kids allows them to see you enjoying a range of foods. Remember: If you don’t want picky kids, try not to be picky yourselves. That includes eating your serving of veggies, too! 

Your Mealtime Mantra: If you need one takeaway, then this is it: The parents are responsible for making and serving dinner. The kids are responsible for whether they eat it and how much. “But what if they starve?” Rest assured, they won’t. Think big picture — what habits do you want to instill in your kids? Catering to every need and serving mac-n-cheese will only teach them that whining gets them their way. Plus, they won’t have any motivation to branch out if they know you’ll always defer to their favorite foods. If they are hungry, they will eat. Trust them to make this decision.

There’s no family dinner without food, yet the best benefits come from what happens after you bring the food to the table. When families have the time to talk and make memories — well, that’s the secret sauce. Together tastes better. Pledge to plate it up with your families more this month.


Chicken Stir-Fry

Serves 4

All you need

• 1 lb. boneless chicken breast tenders

• 3 tbsp cornstarch, divided

• 3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

• ½ cup honey

• ¾ tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

• 1 tsp refrigerated ginger paste

• ¼ tsp sesame oil

• ¼ tsp crushed red pepper

• 7 tsp canola oil, divided

• 12 oz. Hy-Vee Short Cuts broccoli, cut into bite-size florets

• ¾ cup shredded carrot

• ¾ cup Hy-Vee Short Cuts tricolor pepper strips

• 2/3 cup whole lightly salted cashews

• Hot cooked brown rice

• Sliced green onions, for garnish

All you do

1. Cut chicken into ¾-inch pieces. Toss with 2 tablespoons cornstarch until coated; set aside.

2. Stir together broth, honey, soy sauce, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, ginger paste, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper; set aside.

3. Heat 2 teaspoons canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Stir-fry half of chicken for 2-3 minutes or until cooked through (165 degrees). Remove chicken from skillet. Repeat with remaining chicken and 2 teaspoons canola oil.

4. Heat 2 canola teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. Add broccoli; stir-fry for 1 minute. 5. Add remaining canola oil, then add carrot and pepper strips; stir-fry for 2 more minutes.

6. Push veggies to edge of skillet and add in the broth mixture to the center; bring to a boil. Stir in chicken and cashews and cook for 1 minute.

7. Serve over rice and garnish with green onions if desired.

Recipe source: Hy-Vee Seasons magazine, September 2020 

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.