Rethink Family Meals: Tips & Strategies from Jill Castle, MS, RDN
As families across the country gear up for the busy back-to-school season and parents rearrange schedules to accommodate new routines, planning and preparing sit-down family meals can seem like a daunting task. It’s important to remind parents of the many reasons why family meals are so beneficial, not just from a nutrition standpoint, but because they also help build stronger family relationships that can benefit a child’s mental and physical health.
“There’s a positive relationship between the number of family meals per week and better family functioning, connectedness, and family cohesiveness. At least three meals per week (breakfast, lunch or dinner) with at least one caretaker has a positive impact,” says registered dietitian and childhood nutrition expert, Jill Castle, MS, RDN. “Any time is a good time to start a mealtime strategy so families can have healthy family meals more regularly.”
“If you’re in a real pinch with time or food ideas, add an Orgain Kids Protein Shake to the mix for a good source of nutrients and protein,” suggests Jill Castle. (View Orgain’s recipe library to learn how to up the nutrition in your next family meal using Orgain!)
Help your clients get ahead of family mealtime and make sure they happen more often! Jill Castle offers these tips and strategies for planning and preparing meals:
1. Pick a regular day to plan out your weekly meals.
When you sit down, try to map out a full dinner meal for each night of the week. Include meals out or any other evening plans that might impact your weekly dinner schedule.
2. Use a theme for certain days of the week, such as Tacos on Tuesday, Pizza or Pasta on Fridays, and Fish on Wednesdays.
Nightly themes don’t have to be food-oriented. Rather, they can be a Slow Cooker meal or a Kid’s Choice night. Using a theme can make meal planning a lot easier. Even Tacos on Tuesday can be different each week when you swap out the protein (beans, beef, fish, turkey, etc.).
3. Expedite the cooking process by using gadgets that make food faster, such as the Instant Pot or Air Fryer, or allow a hands-off approach to cooking (hello, Slow Cooker).
4. Plan breakfast and lunch for the week, too.
Think through what you might want to add to the usual breakfast and lunch fare. Perhaps you want to make waffles or scones one week, or pack up pasta or chicken salad for lunch to change things up. Planning for these “unordinary” entrees ahead of time will make it easier to keep food variety front and center (and the ingredients you need on hand).
5. Write your grocery list and consider seasonal produce and any sale items and/or coupons you might use.
Selecting grocery specials and in-season produce will cut your bill substantially.
6. Advertise the meal plan and stick with it… most of the time.
Of course, schedule changes happen, but if you can let your family know what’s on the schedule for meals during the week and stick with the meal plan, there will be fewer complaints. More importantly, the well-balanced meal you carefully planned will benefit your whole family.
Allergy-Friendly Family Meal Planningwith Colleen Webb, MS, RDN
With the right planning and preparation, family mealtime can still be enjoyable while accommodating food allergies. “Family mealtime is a terrific opportunity for families to bond and kids to grow physically, mentally and emotionally,” says registered dietitian and gastrointestinal nutrition expert, Colleen Webb, MS, RDN.
“For parents of kids with food allergies or intolerances, the stress of meal planning and prep doesn’t stop at home. It extends to school lunches and snacks. Fortunately, there are nutritious, ready-made options to send your kids to school with, including Orgain’s ready-to-drink Kids Plant Protein Shakes. Not only are they low in sugar and free of major food allergens, but their packaging is fun and kid-friendly,” adds Colleen.
Gastrointestinal nutrition dietitian Colleen Webb, MS, RDN shares her best methods for allergy-friendly meal planning:
1. Schedule time to plan, prep, cook, eat and clean up.
Unfortunately, the best intentions won’t make allergy-friendly meals show up on your kitchen table. Just as you would schedule a night out with friends or a work meeting, arrange times in your calendar to plan next week’s meals, buy the groceries, prep the ingredients, and cook the food. Be specific with dates and times. Personally, the only way I get anything done is if I write it down.
2. Check out allergy-friendly recipe books from your local library.
Browsing recipes online is fine, but it’s easy to get distracted and waste precious time. And buying recipe books can get expensive, especially if you’re like me and only find a few recipes your family enjoys. Instead, borrow books for free and make copies of your favorite recipes.
3. Assign a theme to weeknight meals. Think “Meatless Monday”, “Taco Tuesday”, “Soup Wednesday”, “Slow-cooker Thursday” and/or “Pizza Friday.”
Having a vague idea of what you’re cooking helps to narrow down options. Plus, you can take advantage of weekly sales, seasonal foods, and locally available items.
4. Serve mix and match meals where each family member can build their own final product.
Customizable meals, such as taco, potato or pasta bars, are superb for families with picky eaters, or those with food allergies or intolerances. You don’t have to worry about accommodating everyone’s dietary preferences or restrictions because they can pick what they want.
5. Be sure to have healthy snacks available for hungry folks in case dinner isn’t ready.
Coming to meals overly hungry can lead to overeating, fast eating, and careless eating. Each of these behaviors can cause people to feel sick, especially those with digestive issues.
6. Use your freezer!
I’d wager the freezer is the most underutilized appliance in many households. Batch cook allergy-friendly meals to freeze for later.