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Resurrecting the sit-down family meal in your home

October is National Eat Better, Eat Together Month. When was the last time you sat down and enjoyed a meal together as a family?

Studies show that when families eat together, meals are apt to be made healthier by including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In addition to health benefits, eating together provides a great opportunity for parents and children to communicate with each other and stay connected in our busy lives.

Eating meals together can be challenging due to varying schedules and lack of time for meal preparation. Here are some ideas on how to make more family meals happen at your house.

Getting everyone together

Look over the calendar and plan a time when everyone can be there, even if it is only one or two times a week. Explain to all family members the importance of eating together. Any meal can be a family meal. A Saturday morning breakfast or Sunday brunch works best for many families.

Prepare meals

in advance

Evenings can be a hectic time for everyone, especially the cook. Plan a few weekly meals ahead of time, create a shopping list and have the ingredients on hand. Try doing some prep work on the weekend, such as cutting up vegetables, making healthy muffins, or grilling extra chicken breasts for during the week. Utilize your slow cooker to make food preparation less stressful. Add a salad to as the final touch to a slow cooker meal.

Involve your family

The more you can engage your kids in meal planning and preparation, the more they will want to be involved in and enjoy family meals. Everyone can come up with meal ideas and help with various steps of the cooking process. Younger children can help tear lettuce, stir ingredients and set the table.

During mealtime, create a relaxed environment in which both food and conversation can be enjoyed. Dinnertime is not the time to enforce new rules or discuss punishment. Give everyone a chance to talk. If you cannot remember when you last had a family meal together, now is the time to start eating together and eating better.

Crock-pot autumn chicken

Makes 4 servings

4 skinless chicken breasts

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 acorn squash, skin removed and cut into chunks

1 (14 ½ -ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth


Salt and pepper


1 tablespoon honey

Place carrots and parsnips in the bottom of a slow cooker. Sprinkle with garlic to taste. Place chicken on top; pour in broth. Place squash on top of chicken. Sprinkle desired amounts of salt, pepper and nutmeg on top of squash and drizzle enough honey on top to lightly cover the squash. Cook on low 8 to 10 hours.

Nutrition information per serving: 237 calories, 3.3 g fat, 107 mg sodium, 24.5 g carbohydrate, 4.1 g fiber, 7.4 g sugar, 28 g protein

Black bean and sweet potato soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 onion, chopped

2 minced garlic cloves

2 teaspoons each ground coriander and ground cumin

2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

¼ teaspoon pepper

6 cups chicken broth

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 cup corn

Heat oil in a skillet and saute onion and garlic in oil until soft. Add all ingredients to slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or until sweet potatoes are tender.

Per serving: 289 calories, 4.2 g fat, 49 g carbohydrate, 12.4 g fiber, 16.7 g protein

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