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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 12:07 am

Family meals, family bonding

How to get everyone to sit down for dinner

Photo from metrocreativeconnection.com


Jennifer Tirey has a goal each time she fixes dinner for her family – make a colorful plate.

“I’m lucky, my daughter, age 10, loves snap peas and sweet peppers, and my son, age 11, loves any kind of fruit,” says Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. “Adding color to our plates makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.”

She finds it challenging to hit everyone’s likes and dislikes with each meal, because, like most moms, she has picky eaters. But she makes sure family meals are a priority.

“If we’re having pasta with sauce, I may cook the chicken in advance, and save some of the chicken because my son doesn’t like it mixed in. But the bottom line is we’re all eating the same thing – just in different ways. I don’t want to have family meals where I’m cooking two different things.”

She turns to her slow cooker for help in getting family meals on the table – even when there is football practice for her son and husband.

“As a working parent, I have this anxiety when I don’t know what I’m doing for dinner,” said Tirey.

So she plans her meals like she plans her schedule.

“My grocery list is based on our menu for the week,” she says. “Today I already took the chicken out of the freezer to thaw it in the refrigerator for tonight’s meal. I want the kids to have something of substance before they go to their practice or event, and planning is the only way I can do that.”

To make family dinnertime a reality, make a commitment to gathering for sit-down meals with your kids. Though there are countless distractions and obligations disrupting the family dinner, parents who establish this traditional meal build a strong foundation for well-adjusted kids.

Sept. 24 is designated as National Family Day to recognize the importance of eating together as a family. Benefits to children are seen when family meals happen between five and seven times per week. Those benefits include improved academic performance and self-esteem, lower rates of obesity and eating disorders and lower incidences of substance abuse and teen pregnancy. An easy way to gather everyone to the table is with a fun food station. This could happen at the evening meal or even breakfast; the important thing is that everyone is present and eats together.

Food stations can be easy meals if you do a little prep work beforehand. Have your family think of toppings they like, remembering to include fruits and vegetables. Gather the family into the kitchen Sunday night to chop up a few vegetables or pre-cook some chicken breasts. You can also use frozen vegetables; thaw and then sauté them. Cooking ahead allows you a quick and easy meal during the week.

Five food stations for family meals

• Oatmeal Bar (Because sometimes a family meal is in the morning) – If you cook your oatmeal in the crockpot overnight, it will be ready to go by morning. Topping ideas: fresh fruits, thawed frozen fruit, nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, maple syrup, flax seed, chia seed, granola and vanilla yogurt.

• Spud Bar – Utilize frozen potatoes or pre-bake some baked potatoes and have the following toppings available: broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, salsa, green onions, black beans, cheese, rotisserie chicken or diced ham.

• Nachos – Top whole grain corn chips with chicken, black beans, salsa, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, pre-cooked brown rice, crumbled cooked lean hamburger, corn, peppers, plain Greek yogurt, cheese. Bake it in the oven for 5-10 minutes until cheese melts.

• Pasta – Pre-cook whole-grain pasta and top with a variety of sauces: low-fat Alfredo, pesto, marinara, steamed vegetables, cooked shrimp, cooked chicken, reduced-fat meatballs, fresh basil, cheeses, fresh baked bread.

• Pizza – Whole-grain pita crusts or whole-grain tortillas with toppings: cheeses, pesto sauce, pizza sauce, cooked broccoli, diced peppers, canned pineapple tidbits, olives, mushrooms, diced ham, turkey pepperoni, cooked chicken, fresh herbs.   

Charlyn Fargo Ware is the staff dietitian at Hy-Vee supermarket.

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