Healthy Children - September 2016

Back to School Mealtime Tips

Summer is ending, and school is just around the corner. Adjusting to busier school year schedules can be a challenge for families with young children, especially when it comes to finding time to eat meals together. Family mealtimes offer many benefits including: more open communication, improved academic performance, and overall better nutrition for the whole family. Below are 10 ways to make family mealtime a positive experience even with a busy schedule.

Involve everyone in the planning: Have a weekly conversation where everyone can contribute their ideas for the menu.

Shop with a grocery list: Cooking food at home stretches the budget, but make sure to focus your purchases on the planned menu, minimizing impulse buys that may not be as healthy.

Prepping ahead: Once you get home from the store, washing and cutting cup fruits and veggies will save time later in the week.

Everyone pitches in: Divide the work of prepping ingredients, measuring, and cooking dinner, as well as setting the table, and cleaning up.

Cook with more leftover: Plan meals so that extra portions are set aside for meals for the next day. Items such as soups, casseroles, and even main dishes can be refrigerated and reheated for quick prep time later in the week.

Keep talking: Give everyone a chance to talk about their day. What happened at school? What is happening later this week?

Describe your dinner: Share how each family member helped with dinner. Have younger children describe colors and numbers of foods. Is there a story behind a family recipe someone wants to share?

Two-bite club: Adults and older siblings can model trying new fruits and vegetables for younger family members. We all need to try something a few times to decide what we like, so just taking a bit or two of new food is good start.

Be flexible: If family mealtime is a new thing for you, start small with a couple days a week. Depending the family, time may be breakfast on a weekend instead of dinner every week night.

Have fun: Remember that mealtime is more than just a meal. It is time to appreciate each member of the family and enjoy together.

Written by Sherri Ann Ambrose, Educator
University of Illinois Extension
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program
Chicago, IL