How to save money, time, and happy family dinners

NEW HAVEN Conn. (WTNH) – Getting a family dinner together can be difficult, but it’s an important routine to make sure the entire family is eating healthy and staying connected.

So registered dietitian nutritionist, Susan Zachman stopped by Good Morning Connecticut to reveal some steps to make family dinners easy, cheap, fun, and quick.

Here’s what she recommends:

#1 Keep it simple!
•doesn’t have to be super fancy
•serve a variety of healthy foods, making sure that your children like at least one thing that you offer
•Seeing parents enjoying healthy foods makes kids want to try them too.
•don’t be a short order cook for your children – will never learn to eat new foods if they can also have nuggets
•time savers: slow cooker; cook 2x quantity & freeze for future meal; “two-fers” – pick up roast chicken at grocery store for Monday dinner and turn leftovers into fajitas or chicken salad for Tuesday dinner

#2 Keep it positive!
•Keep conversation positive/pleasant. Families that talk together over meals become stronger/have stronger bonds (stronger bonds make it easier to deal w/problems that arise).
• has excellent conversation starters for children as young as age 2 ◦If you were a season, which season would you be and why?
◦What is your favorite summer food to eat?
◦If you could create a new tradition for our family, what would it be?
◦Talk about something nice someone did for you this week, or something that made you feel better.

•Don’t discipline or discuss misbehavior/negative things or things that may cause conflict (homework). Want the meal table to be a place that your children want to come and associate with warm, close family times.
•Increases each family member’s sense of belonging & provides a setting that can reinforce values that are important to the family.

#3 Focus!
•Turn off TV, phones, screens, computers and other distractions.
•If you are paying attention to a TV show or video game, you are not paying attention to each other and to your own hunger/fullness (risk overeating if distracted).

#4 Get em involved!
•Children help with food prep, setting table, and clean up.
•Kids are more likely to eat what they make.
•Kitchen tasks for 2-3 year olds: Squeezing lemons or limes, using a plastic juicer, washing produce in the sink, drying produce in a salad spinner; picking fresh herb leaves off stems, ripping them into small pieces; tearing up lettuce, sprinkling dried herbs and salt, using a pepper grinder, kneading dough, scooping potatoes or yams out of the skins, brushing (or “painting”) oil with a pastry brush, using the rolling pin for dough or puff pastry, whisking together vinaigrettes, squeezing water out of thawed spinach, stirring, and mashing.
•Serve family style. Let children – even young ones – serve themselves.

There are many wonderful, free resources about family meals. Three of my favorites are Family Dinner Project, The Kids Cook Monday & Chop Chop magazine.
• – free online dinner program, Food, Fun and Conversation: 4 Weeks to Better Family Dinners (healthy recipes, dinner activities, conversation starters; email you helpful tips and reminders)
• – has a parent toolkit that describes what kitchen tasks are appropriate for children of different ages and recipes that each explain which parts can be done by kids alone, which can be done by adults and children together and what has to be done by an adults.
• – is a magazine published in both Spanish and English that has nutritious, great-tasting, ethnically diverse, and inexpensive recipes, many of which are available on its website for free. The magazine also has fun food facts, games and puzzles, and interviews with healthy heroes ranging from kid chefs to professional athletes to the White House Chefs.

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