8 Healthy Shopping Tips for Your Next Grocery Store Trip
It’s never too late to get smarter about healthy supermarket shopping. These simple tips will add nutrients to your cart and keep more dollars in your wallet. Here’s how to get health savvy when food shopping:
1) Always shop with a list – It might sound obvious but that written list can help keep you to your budget and your healthy ambitions. Stick to items needed for your upcoming meals or to replenish your usual food staples. Avoid those impulsive purchases, especially at the checkout line.
2) Shop full – This is another simple trick but when you can, plan to grocery shop after eating a meal or snack. Shopping on an empty stomach increases your likelihood of purchasing empty calorie products or extra food you really don’t need.
3) Map it out – In the past, smart shopping meant hitting the store’s perimeter as supermarkets stocked fresh foods like produce, dairy, meat and seafood on the outer rim of their stores while junk food lurked in the middle aisles. But nowadays, the center of the store also holds many healthy and economical pantry stockers like whole grains, beans, cereals, spices, peanut butter, canned fish/fruits/vegetables and healthy oils. Organize your list by aisle to save time and lower the chance of unplanned purchases.
4) Stock up on fruits & vegetables - Start your trip in the produce aisle, which will quickly increase the nutritional value of your cart. Balance what you and your family will realistically eat before that produce will go bad - it’s neither healthy nor economical to forget about the spinach or pears in the back of the refrigerator. Take advantage of frozen fruits and veggies (without the sauces and sweeteners.) Since they are packaged at the peak of freshness, they’re just as nutritious and super convenient to have on hand.
5) Turn around the box – Front of the box claims like “natural”, “cholesterol-free” or “multi-grain” can be vague and misleading. Read the package back or side panel for nutrient percentages and an ingredient check. If there’s a long list with unrecognizable ingredients, put it back on the shelf.
6) Arm yourself with apps – Mobile phones and tablets have taken healthy food shopping to the next level and there’s an app to help with all these strategies. Download and test them out before your next trip:
- Meal planning apps: MealBoard, Evernote Food, Paprika Recipe Manager
- Grocery list apps: Grocery Gadget, Grocery IQ, Out of Milk
- Coupon apps: Grocery Smarts Coupon Shopper, Grocery Pal, CardStar
- Checking labels apps: Fooducate, GoodGuide, ShopWell
- Seasonal food apps: Seasons, Locavore, EatLocal
7) Take advantage of in-store RDs – Many supermarkets now have registered dietitians on staff who give free cooking demonstrations, lead healthy shopping tours or even provide one-on-one nutrition counseling. Check with the customer service desk for what’s offered at your store.
8) Bag wisely – Reusable grocery bags are good for the environment and even your wallet but did you know that they harbor harmful bacteria from constant use? Keep your family and healthy food purchases safe by washing bags after every trip – on the gentle cycle and then air dry. Take food safety a step further and use specific bags for meat/chicken and others for fresh produce.
-Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD, LDN
The Skinny on Coconut Water
It seems we are crazy for all things coconut. From coconut oil to coconut milk, products from this tropical fruit are popping up all over the grocery store. And coconut water is no exception. Usually extracted from younger coconuts, the clear liquid or “water” is often touted as a sports drink because it contains potassium (and variant amounts of sodium), electrolytes that need to be replenished after vigorous exercise. Unlike coconut milk (which comes from the meat of the fruit), coconut water contains no saturated fat and besides potassium, is a good source of Vitamin C and magnesium. Coconut water is also considered a 100% fruit juice.
Coconut water is only 40 calories per 8 ounce serving and lower in fruit sugar, thus has a lower level of sweetness, compared to other natural fruit juices. As a way to cut back on natural sugar and calories in beverages, coconut water is sometimes used as an ingredient. Its light and slightly sweet flavor also blends well into smoothies and teas.
Coconut water is a refreshing beverage that can fit into a healthy lifestyle, as long as it is enjoyed in moderation.
-Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD, LDN
Ten Foods That Should Always be in Your Pantry
A well-stocked pantry is key to getting fast and nutritious meals on the family table, especially when time is precious. Here are the top ten items for a healthy and handy kitchen:
1) Beans – Dried or low sodium, canned beans are one of the best bargains around, often only pennies per pound. Pinto, kidney, black and garbanzo beans are fantastic sources of protein, fiber and other needed nutrients. Toss them into soups, salads, pasta or other grain dishes for extra flavor and bulk.
Quick Tip: Purée beans and use to thicken soups or pasta sauces.
2) Canned tomatoes – Diced, whole or puréed, low sodium canned tomatoes are a pantry must, especially when tomatoes are not in season. Besides being key to making homemade pasta sauce, a can of tomatoes adds nutrients, flavor and color to rice & beans, chili or stews.
Quick Tip: Make your own salsa with canned tomatoes, garlic, onions and fresh cilantro.
3) Canola and olive oils – Considered heart-healthy because they are high in monounsaturated fats, these plant-based oils are staples for any type of cooking. If you need a neutral, plain oil, use canola. Try olive oil when you want more flavor, like when making salad dressings or for drizzling over soup, bread or veggie pizza.
Quick Tip: Instead of heating butter in the pan, use olive oil when scrambling eggs.
4) Low sodium broths – Since it’s time consuming to make your own stocks, low sodium vegetable, chicken and beef broths are good substitutions. Broths and stocks add flavor to homemade soups, sauces, casseroles, vegetables or just about any dish that requires cooking liquid.
Quick Tip: Freeze extra broth in ice cube trays – makes defrosting a snap!
5) Nuts – Nuts and nut butter are terrific sources of the heart healthy fats and are super versatile. Add nuts to salads, grains, chopped fruit or yogurt. Spread nut butters onto whole grain breads and raw vegetables & fruits or use as a base for Thai and Indian sauces.
Quick Tip: A handful of pistachios, almonds, walnuts or peanuts is a great snack that will keep you feeling fuller longer.
6) Popcorn – Keep popcorn kernels on hand for any time you have the munchies.
Quick Tip: Heat a few tablespoons of canola or olive oil in a pot with a lid. Add kernels and minutes later you have a satisfying whole grain snack that’s healthier than microwave or bagged versions.
7) Canned tuna or salmon – Low sodium versions of canned tuna and salmon are inexpensive yet rich in omega 3s and other nutrients that give us a health boost. Canned salmon is also a good source of calcium and Vitamin D because of its edible bones. If you want to cut calories, choose canned fish packed in water.
Quick Tip: Instead of mayonnaise, mix with Dijon Mustard, some curry powder or chopped olives for a new twist to your tuna sandwich.
8) Vinegar – Whether it’s red wine, white or apple cider; vinegars are a must-have for homemade salad vinaigrettes, which are healthier – and tastier - than store versions. Mix 2 tablespoons vinegar to ¼ cup oil and experiment by adding fresh chopped herbs, black pepper or different spices.
Quick Tip: Add a few splashes of vinegar to cooked vegetables, chili or seafood to perk up the flavors in the dish.
9) Whole Wheat Pasta – Nowadays, there’s a wide range of whole wheat and whole grain pastas that provide extra fiber and many other nutrients. But if you still love your regular spaghetti, buy a box of both and cook half of each together – at least half of your grains will be whole at that meal.
Quick Tip: Instead of water, cook small shaped pasta in low sodium vegetable soup for a heartier meal.
10) Whole grains – Keep recipes interesting and expand your whole grain horizons by adding brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro or whole wheat couscous to your cupboards. Cook in low sodium broth, toss in some canned beans, tomatoes and tuna, mix with homemade vinaigrette – the combinations are endless. Talk about a pantry friendly meal!
Quick Tip: To save money, buy whole grains in the bulk aisle of the grocery store.
-Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD, LDN
Ten Ways to Color Coordinate Your Day
Have you eaten a rainbow today? Since fruits and vegetables get their color from many different antioxidants, the more colors you eat, the more you cover your nutrient bases. Here are 10 ways to add more color to your day (aim for at least 3 different colors at each meal):
1) Salsas: Make a traditional salsa using cherry tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers and lime juice. Mash in avocado for a creamy version. Fruit salsas pair well with fish or chicken – add diced nectarines, peaches and/or mango to your basic recipe.
2) Smoothies: Slice and freeze fruit ahead of time for an extra smooth and frosty drink. Use equal parts fruit, low-fat milk (or 100% fruit juice) and plain yogurt. Some winning combinations: strawberry-blueberry, peach-apricot, and mango-banana.
3) Salads: Take advantage of the many different salad greens available. Toss things up with peppery arugula, baby spinach, red romaine or purple radicchio. Add sliced apples, plums or figs with your favorite nuts and cheese.
4) Sides: Make a slaw out of shredded Napa and purple cabbages, carrots and broccoli. Or jazz up your lima bean and corn succotash with chopped sweet and/or hot peppers. Sauté rainbow Swiss chard or green beans with olive oil, garlic and cracked black pepper.
5) Sandwiches: Dress up your grilled cheese with tomato slices and fresh herbs like basil, cilantro or chives. Add avocado and apple slices to your turkey club. Purée cooked carrots with garlic and chickpeas for a zesty sandwich spread.
6) Veggies on the Grill: Wrap ears of corn or beets in foil and grill. Slice and grill a medley of red, yellow & purple potatoes with zucchini. Thread skewers with shrimp or chicken, red onion, yellow squash and green pepper. Serve grilled veggies as a side dish, mix into pastas or top on pizzas.
7) Fruits on the Grill: Grill slices of watermelon then dice and mix with fresh mint. Stone fruits like peaches, plums and apricots are delicious when split in half, grilled and drizzled with honey. Go tropical with a grilled mango, pineapple and banana fruit cup.
8) Fruit & Cheese Plates: For a simple lunch or snack, serve grapes, figs and apples with your favorite cheese, nuts and whole-wheat crackers. Wrap thin layers of prosciutto around cantaloupe and honeydew cubes; serve kabob-style with strawberries and fresh mint leaves.
9) Grain Dishes: Warm or cold grains tossed with fresh fruits, veggies and herbs make for delicious side dishes. Mix barley with chopped green beans, zucchini, mint and basil. Toss cherries, beets, ginger and pistachios with quinoa. Mix whole wheat couscous with diced apricots, baby spinach, almonds and nutmeg.
10) Sauces: For a super easy yet robust tomato sauce, toss chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic and basil in olive oil and place in baking pan. Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Use as a topping for pizza, pasta or grilled chicken.
Summertime Eating: Keep it Safe
Summer is often synonymous with no schedules and no responsibilities – at least for the kids! While we’re all for kicking back in the summer, it’s definitely not the time to become lax about food safety. And while food safety talk isn’t always the most exciting topic, here are some simple rules to ensure eating outside stays fun in the sun.
Clean Those Hands – It sounds like a no brainer but this is the first line of defense in preventing the spread of bacteria and potential food illness. While we all may wash our hands before cooking or eating, most of us don’t do it long enough. A 20 second wash with soap and warm water is ideal. Don’t forget about keeping counter tops, grill equipment, tools and picnic tables sanitized as well.
Separate Raw Foods – Again, it may be obvious but it’s worth retelling: always keep raw meats, poultry, fish and seafood separate from other foods like vegetables and fruits to avoid bacteria spread or cross contamination. Color-coded cutting boards are a great way to help keep track of where raw food has been handled. Remember to use a different plate when removing cooked foods from the grill, too.
Give It A Rub - Try marinating or rubbing spices on meat, chicken and seafood before grilling. Not only do they add flavor but research suggests that they are also effective at reducing the formation of carcinogens that develop when foods get burnt. Use about ½ cup marinade for each pound of protein. Always discard the remaining marinade – never reuse after raw meat has touched it.
Avoid the Burn - Get in the habit of scrubbing down the grill rack after each use. Removing excess food prevents future charring, smoke and off-flavors in your food. If using a charcoal grill, wait until the coals are cooler before you start cooking. Food that is cooked on high heat for longer periods of time can produce carcinogens. Cut off any burnt black bits before eating.
Take a Temperature – For the safest and tastiest results, add a meat thermometer to your grill toolbox. Insert into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone for precise temperatures. Grill until 145 degrees Fahrenheit for whole beef, pork, lamb and veal; 160 degrees for hamburgers (i.e., any ground meats); 165 degrees for poultry, hot dogs and sausages and 140 degrees for fish. The USDA cooking guidelines also recommend a 3-minute rest time before carving or serving grilled foods for optimal food safety.
Do a Time Check – As temperatures rise so does the risk of harmful bacteria developing in perishable foods lying out on the picnic table. Once you hit the two-hour mark after sitting down to eat, be sure to wrap up any leftovers and put directly in the refrigerator or in an insulated bag. If it hits 90 degrees plus outside, it’s wise to clean up within an hour of serving food.
Still have questions? Take advantage of the USDA virtual representative, Ask Karen, who can address any food safety concerns. Access at www.askkaren.gov, or visit m.askkaren.gov from your mobile device.
Get a Greener Kitchen
Whether you’re food shopping, cooking or cleaning up, there are many simple things you can do to help save the earth while making healthier food choices. Here are some highlights:
At the Market
‘Tis the Season - When you buy local foods in season, you cut down on the energy it takes to ship food across the country and the globe. Not to mention, you’ll benefit from more flavorful, nutritious and often less expensive groceries.
Beans vs. Beef – By serving at least one vegetarian meal a week, you are reducing your family’s carbon footprint. It may take anywhere from 10 to 40 times more energy to produce animal foods vs. plant based. Look to beans, nuts and peanut butter more often for protein. Participate in the Meatless Monday movement.
Fish Wisely – Choose sustainable options like U.S. farm raised shrimp, tilapia, catfish or barramundi. Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide at the market and when eating out (visit their web site or download their app.)
Skip the Singles –Buy food items in bulk or larger containers like yogurt, oatmeal, beverages and snacks for less packaging waste. Avoid purchasing bottled water and invest in a pitcher water filter instead.
In the Kitchen
Think Thin - Slicing and cutting food (like veggies and meats) into thinner strips reduces cooking time and results in less energy used. Using a kitchen mallet, pound chicken breasts into thinner pieces or cook “skinnier” versions of pasta like angel hair instead of thick noodles.
Cover Up - After your pot is boiling or simmering, you can “lid cook” food such as pasta and vegetables. Cover with a lid and turn off the burner; the trapped heat will finish the job – and save energy.
- Downsize – When making smaller dishes, use a toaster oven to bake, roast or broil to cut down energy expended from a larger oven.
Energize Your Appliances
Only run your dishwasher if it’s full. Keep your freezer full so it runs more efficiently. Use a thermometer in your refrigerator to keep temperatures optimal (between 37 – 40 degrees F.) Look for the Energy Star rating when you’re ready for a new kitchen appliance.
Give Back to Mother Nature
Get into the routine of composting your waste (i.e., fruit/vegetable scraps, egg/nut shells.) Keep a container on your counter as a reminder and take it out to your garden when you take out the trash.
Resource: Kate Geagan, MS, RD & Jackie Newgent, RD, CDN “The Green Revolution Happening in Food: Are You Ready?” Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (Boston, MA) November 7, 2010.
Eat to Boost Your Immunity: Nutrients That Protect
Especially during the long winter months, colds and illnesses often seem unavoidable but did you know certain foods might actually help ward off sickness? Make sure you’re taking advantage of all the disease-fighting nutrients found in food!
Kick Up the Vitamin C
Though research hasn’t proved the widely held belief that Vitamin C is a cure for the common cold, it’s still very important to our immune system. Also known as ascorbic acid, this antioxidant helps heal wounds, protects our hearts and may hold anti-aging properties. Aim for at least 2 servings daily.
Food sources: Apple juice, oranges, grapefruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, kiwifruit, strawberries, cantaloupe.
Kitchen tip: Mix chopped oranges, kiwi, strawberries and cantaloupe; toss with apple juice, yogurt and fresh mint for a “C” burst fruit salad.
Optimize With Omega 3s
Yes, some fats are good for you and omega 3 fatty acids have an array of benefits including improving heart and joint health along with reducing occurrences of allergies, asthma and dermatitis. Aim for 2 -3 servings weekly.
Food sources: Fatty fish such as tuna, wild salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, anchovies; walnuts, flax seeds, canola oil.
Kitchen tip: Punch up your pasta! Mix pieces of grilled salmon or tuna into your favorite tomato sauce to add great flavor but without a fishy taste.
Get a Boost With Beta Carotene
A precursor to Vitamin A, this natural antioxidant helps fight infections – it also protects our skin, eyes, heart and gut. Some research suggests it may even enhance our immune system by slowing tumor growth. Aim for 2 - 3 servings daily.
Food sources: Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, squash, apricots, spinach, dairy products.
Kitchen tip: Do a dip! Purée cooked sweet potatoes or carrots; mix with vanilla yogurt and serve with “dunkers” like apple slices or cinnamon sugar pita wedges.
Go For Glutathione
Glutathione is called the “master antioxidant” in the scientific world, as it’s one of the body’s most important defenses against cell damage. Though our bodies can produce it, eating foods rich in sulfur can help increase our internal levels. Aim for 1- 2 servings daily.
Food sources: Asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, garlic, spinach, avocado.
Kitchen tip: For more flavorful vegetables, mix broccoli or asparagus with garlic & olive oil; roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.
Stock Up on Selenium
A mineral that is essential for a healthy immune system, proper amounts of selenium can help ward off viral infections, protect our hearts, regulate our thyroids and even reduce our risks for certain cancers, including prostate. Aim for 1 - 2 servings daily.
Food Sources: Mushrooms, seafood, Brazil nuts, eggs, barley, wheat germ, poultry.
Kitchen Tip: Soup’s on! Sauté carrots, onions and celery. Add mushrooms, barley and low-sodium vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer until barley is cooked through.
Get Kids Cooking – A Little Mess Equals Big Results
Getting children involved with mealtime can actually benefit their bodies, inside and out. Not to mention, more home-cooked dinners can be easier on your wallet with the bonus of some quality family time together.
Why Start? While a few more cooks in the kitchen may seem ineffective, child experts and nutritionists agree that there are many benefits from getting children involved with preparing food. Cooking is a great opportunity to expand reading, science, math, language and fine motor skills. Your little chef is more likely to have a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight and be a less picky eater. Kitchen skills also foster independence and self-confidence while carving out time to connect with family.
When To Start: By the age of two, your toddler can help with the simplest of tasks. Just a few minutes of washing fruits or vegetables (i.e., dunking in water) is a great place to start. Preschoolers can practice mixing, use a plastic knife for cutting or simply turn the pages of a cookbook. As your child gets older, they can handle more tasks such as measuring, stovetop cooking or even menu planning.
How To Start: Whether you are a novice in the kitchen or chef extraordinaire, the key is for you to be enthused which will in turn, get your kids feeling excited and adventurous.
Dress the part - Get them an apron or even chef hat. Set up a work station or special counter space just for them. Have a step stool for younger kids.
Make a date - Pick one day a week as “kids in the kitchen” night. Often weekends or days with the least scheduled activities are best. Put it on the calendar and make it a priority.
Begin simply– Start with just one recipe, a side dish or basic procedure like cooking oatmeal, preparing a salad or blending a smoothie. For example, Strawberry Banana Smoothie or Applesauce Muffins are fitting beginner recipes in Tree Top’s recipe section – where you’ll find many more family friendly recipe ideas.
What’s for dinner? – Have kids look through cookbooks or magazines to select recipes or ask for their favorite dish and try to recreate it. Have them participate in shopping for ingredients. Invite them to rename their final creation.
Get Outdoors For the Fun (Health) of It
Forget the lazy, hazy days of summer! We have some tips on how to make your summer days better for you while still having some good old-fashioned fun.
On the Move
The warmer weather and longer days make a perfect venue for getting in some daily exercise. Take the “work” out of workout and play with your family:
Make up an obstacle course at the local playground
Grab your helmets and go for a family bike ride
Invent water games with the sprinkler
Take turns jumping rope, hula hoop-ing and hopscotch-ing in the driveway
Play flashlight tag after dinner
To the Market
Take advantage of local and seasonal produce by visiting a nearby farmers' market and have everyone choose a new food to try at home. Or make a day trip to a local farm for some fruit and vegetable picking – you’ll get some exercise and support local farmers/growers. This time of year, look for:
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries
Summer squashes and zucchini
Sweet corn, tomatoes and radishes
Leafy greens, peas and herbs
Apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines
Wet Your Whistle
Along with the summer heat comes the risk for dehydration. If you feel thirsty, your body is already in liquid deprivation so be proactive and:
A Better BBQ
Nothing defines summer like cooking and eating outdoors. For healthier yet still tasty fare, try these tips:
When grilling, choose leaner meats such as cuts of loin, round or leg when selecting beef, pork or lamb. Choose lean or extra-lean ground beef, chicken or turkey. Grill skinless pieces of chicken. Try out different fillets of fish (wrapped in foil) or cook up veggie kabobs brushed in olive oil. Grill portabella mushrooms for a rich, flavorful “burger”.
Think outside the box and experiment with cooking chili (place a cast iron pot right on the grill!), fruit, or even pizza on your grill!
When sitting down to enjoy your meal, aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with whole grains (rice, pasta, bread) and a quarter with lean protein (meat, chicken, fish, shellfish.)
Be Sun Savvy – Fun in the sun does have its hazards such as increased exposure to UV rays which can raise your risk for sunburn and even skin cancer. Play it safe and:
Try to limit sun exposure from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. when it is strongest.
Use sunscreen with SPF (solar protection factor) of 15 or more and reapply every two hours.
For extra protection, cover your face with sunglasses and a hat. Use loose fitted clothing over arms and legs.
Picky Eaters: Tips for the Table
Are you stumped on how to get your kids motivated to eat healthier and venture beyond the chicken fingers and grilled cheese? While this is no simple feat, here are some basic steps to help expand your offspring’s culinary horizons while increasing their nutrient intake.
Try, try again – Did you know it could take up to 15 exposures to a food before a kid accepts it? Understandably, parents often give up after a few attempts and chalk it up to something that Johnny doesn’t like. Instead, persevere and encourage them to try – but without forcing the issue. And avoid the “clean plate” ideal – as long as your child takes a few bites, it’s better than forcing food, which leads to a negative impression.
Do a dip – It’s amazing how something as simple as a condiment gives a dish a whole new light a child’s eye. Plus, they love that they have command over their food. Quick dip tips:
1) Serve a peanut butter-yogurt mix with raw fruits and veggies
2) Mix applesauce and cinnamon for dipping whole-wheat toast strips
3) Combine corn and black beans with mild salsa; pair with baked tortilla chips and pita bread
Play the name game - In a recent Cornell University study, four-year-olds ate nearly twice as much of a vegetable when it was identified by a fun name like “Power Peas” or “X-Ray Vision Carrots” than when it was not1. Even on days the vegetables weren’t given special names, the kids continued to eat about 50 percent more of a veggie that was previously highlighted. Unlike sneaking veggie purees into brownies or sauces, this technique still shows kids exactly what they are eating. So get your creative juices flowing and serve up some “Dinosaur Broccoli Trees” or “Princess Green Apples.”
Kids in the kitchen – Yes, it can be more of a hassle than a help to have your children involved when you are rushing to get a meal on the table. But if you take just 15 minutes of assistance from a tiny sous chef, you may be surprised how much it pays off into healthier eating. The feeling of control and independence often inspires kids to try new things. Based on your child’s age, here are kitchen tasks that may help put picking eating on the back burner:
Toddlers- Rip lettuce/greens; wash produce in bowl of water
Preschoolers- Cut fruit/vegetables with plastic knife; toss salad
Grade school- Separate eggs; blend a smoothie; stir ingredients for baking
Teens- Plan a dinner menu, do the grocery shopping and prepare the main dish
Practice what you preach – Your kids are watching so even if you tell them to drink their milk or juice, they probably won’t if you are guzzling a diet soda at the table. Try to practice food variety, too –in other words, get out of the “same lunch every day” rut. At dinnertime, avoid being a short-order cook – the kids eat what the adults eat. And lastly, always talk positively about food, even if you don’t care for lima beans.
1 Wasnik, B. et al. Destigmatizing Fruits and Vegetables in School Cafeterias, ongoing USDA Economy Research Service grant, CornellUniversity, College of Human Ecology.
Family Meals Mean More
When was the last time your family ate together? Here’s why the family meal needs to be a family priority and how to make it happen more often.
The traditional mealtime routine has undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Yet research continues to find many benefits to connecting families with food around the table. Studies1 show that children of families who eat together (at least three times a week) have:
More nutritious diets
Kids and teens are better nourished when they eat with their families – studies show improved intakes of fruits, vegetables, grains, calcium-rich foods, protein, iron, fiber and vitamins A, C, E, B-6 and folate.
Improved family communications and relationships
When kids and teens can count on a regular time to be with their family, they feel more connected. As a result, they tend to have higher self-esteem, better manners and are more emotionally stable.
Better academic performance
Kids and teens tend to achieve superior grades when they eat dinner often with their parents. Other benefits include improved language and reading skills, better test scores and less absences from school.
Lower risk-taking behaviors
The more kids and teens eat with their families, the less likely they are to take drugs, smoke, drink alcohol or have teenage sex – regardless of gender, family structure or socioeconomic levels.
So, how can you make family mealtime a priority at your house?
1) “There’s no time” solutions:
Schedule regular meals on the family calendar and on the computer.
Limit evening work and meetings.
Encourage kid activities to end by 5:30 or start after 7 pm.
Hold to a “no school activities one night a week” rule.
2) “What’s for dinner?” solutions:
Cook on weekends and freeze for weekday meals.
Use the supermarket or restaurants to assist. For example, pair take-out veggie pizza with a salad or rotisserie chicken with applesauce.
Create simple theme nights like “breakfast for dinner” or “indoor picnic.”
3) “We’re eating together, now what?” solutions:
Turn off the TV, cell phones, iPods and laptops.
Try simple conversation starters such as “If you were a food, what would you be?” or “What’s your favorite season and why?”
Shape homework into trivia questions for the whole family.
1Videon, T.M., et al. Influences on adolescent eating patterns: The importance of family meals. J Adolesc Health.32(2003), 365-373.
-Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD, LDN
Tips for Getting More Fruit into your Family’s Diet
- Substitute Apple Sauce for oil or butter in most baked goods (brownies, cakes, muffins) to cut back on fat and calories.
- Make a fruit smoothie by blending fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit.
- Mix equal parts of sparkling water with Apple Juice, or other 100% Fruit Juice, for a refreshing, fizzy drink.
- Add an Apple Sauce cup as a healthy side to your child’s lunch.
- Pack a juice box (100% Juice) in children’s lunches versus soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
- For a quick snack, spread peanut butter on apple slices.
- Top yogurt with berries or other slices of fruit.
- Freeze 100% Fruit Juice in plastic cups and make your own juice-pops or freeze juice in ice cube trays.
- Use Apple cider or juice as a marinade for grilling meats, or as a low fat option when sautéing onions.
- Create your own 100% Fruit Juice “punch” by mixing together your favorite fruit juices and serving in a punch bowl.
- For dessert, have baked apples, pears, or a fruit salad.
Visit Tree Top Recipes for more delicious ways to serve up fruit!