Health Advice



Nutrition News: Family Mealtime

Charlyn Fargo on

Family Mealtime

September is officially designated as Family Meals Month. I've always thought it's funny we need to designate a month for that. I grew up eating family meals every night. Even with volleyball practice and basketball games, we fit in a family meal.

Somehow my parents knew that gathering around the table to eat as a family offered all kinds of benefits. My brother and I grew up eating what my mom fixed -- and we learned to like foods we weren't crazy about at first.

I tried to do the same with my own daughter and son. Family meals allow parents to be role models and create a supportive environment that promotes healthy eating. Even if you can only eat a couple of meals a week together, it's worth the effort.

Studies have shown that children of families who regularly eat together are more likely to have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and are less likely to be obese, have behavior problems or use drugs, cigarettes or alcohol when they get older. Plus, they're closer to their parents.

Here are some tips to make family meals happen more often in your home:

-- Keep it simple. Attempting to make a meal with 20 ingredients is a recipe for disaster. Instead, build a small collection of go-to recipes to help you get in and out of the kitchen in under 30 minutes.

-- Choose ingredients that make extra. Instead of preparing just three chicken breasts, consider making six. This way, you can use the extras in other dishes such as chicken salad, quesadillas or fajitas.

-- Say no to takeout. A quick trip to the drive-thru might seem like a speedy way to get dinner on the table, but it could be adding to your family's waistline. A simple meal made at home from lean protein, whole grains and fresh, frozen or canned vegetables is more likely to contain the nutrients your family needs without all the extra sodium and dietary fat.

-- Make it a habit. You may not be able to have dinner at the same time every day, but at least try to have dinner together whenever schedules accommodate.

-- Ask for help. You probably have a little army of helpers right at your fingertips. Asking kids to set the table, pour drinks, chop veggies or help make a salad doesn't just make your job easier -- it also teaches them that taking the time and effort to eat together as a family is important. Little kids can practice counting skills by getting the correct number of forks and napkins for the table. Teens love the independence they have when shopping for groceries. Hand them some money and a grocery list and let them pick out an extra vegetable or some whole-grain bread for dinner.

-- Make it fun. Add some fun and excitement with food themes. You can use a checkered tablecloth for an Italian-inspired meal or prepare fresh Asian cuisine and eat with chopsticks. Throw a blanket on your family-room floor and enjoy a family picnic. Let everyone choose a theme and you'll see that your choices are endless. Keep everyone involved in conversations by asking each person to share something that happened that day or week that was funny, weird, scary or challenging.

Q and A

Q: Are steel-cut oats better than rolled oats or instant oatmeal?

A: All oats are nutritious, fiber-rich whole grains and are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber associated with reducing blood cholesterol levels and colon cancer risk. Cut oats (like steel-cut) retain more of their intact structure than rolled. That means cut oats take longer to digest and raise blood sugar levels even more slowly. That may help you feel full longer. Either steel-cut or rolled oats are often better choices than instant varieties, because the instant varieties often contain more sugar and can thus boost blood sugar. If you prefer the consistency of instant oats, look for a plain variety or one with lower sugar.


Looking for a great fall dessert that also includes a serving of fruit? Try this rustic fruit tart from the Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

Rustic Fruit Tart


Servings: 12

1 teaspoon extra-light olive oil

2 tablespoons unseasoned breadcrumbs or panko

4 large egg whites

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2/3 cup sugar

Pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dried cranberries

6 cups (about 5 large) mixed apples and pears, peeled and sliced into thin slivers

Preheat oven to 375 F. Brush oil onto a 9-inch round springform pan and coat and lightly dust with breadcrumbs or panko. Beat the egg whites and yogurt in a large mixing bowl. Beat in sugar, salt, spices and lemon juice. Fold in the flour and mix to form a thick cake batter. Add the fruit to the batter and mix gently, just until the slices are evenly coated. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top is well-browned. Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before removing. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 12.

Per serving: 168 calories; 3 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fat; 3 grams fiber; 40 milligrams sodium.


Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with SIU Med School in Springfield, Illinois. For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at




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