There so many good things about September – cooler weather, fall sports, local festivals in the park, changing of leaves, and apple picking. And now there is yet another thing to love about September – it has been claimed National Family Meal Month.
The benefits of family meals are countless, so I am just going to reference a few here in this post.
- Family meals = better nutrition
As a dietitian, it’s only fair that I start with this benefit. Research shows that when families eat together they consume higher amounts of nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains and inversely decrease the amount of fast food options higher in saturated and trans fat. We are much more likely to purchase more whole foods when we cook and enjoy meals at home rather than when we go out to eat. We have a better chance of instilling healthier habits in those around us when we sit at the table together to eat. A mother who wants her children to eat more vegetables has the highest success rate in doing this by eating the same vegetables at the same meal setting. Children learn first by watching! Lastly, on the health front, this article goes into more detail about the nutritional benefits of enjoying your meals – including better nutrient absorption, digestion and mindfulness. Let’s just hope that a family meal is an enjoyable meal!
- Family meals = happier individuals = happier together
Research shows that frequent family meals increase self esteem and a sense of wellbeing. When an individual – whether it be someone who lives on their own, a stressed parent, or a growing teenager – has an increased self esteem and sense of wellbeing then everyone benefits. This can lead to better emotional relations both in and out of the house. This can be true for a working adult, and is also reflected in academic grades for students of families who eat frequent family meals. Ultimately, when each of these things are increased, the family connection and stronger relationships of those who share mealtime also increases.
- Family meals = easier on the budget
When families eat meals together at home they are more likely to utilize the foods they have already purchased on a grocery trip. When we maximize the use of foods already purchased there is less food waste. While a quick drive through meal may look like a cheaper option in the moment, when actually cost out with grocery and food budgets, meals prepped at home especially for an entire household significantly decreases the per meal cost. Not to mention, money gets put back in the long term healthcare pocket because once again meals at home tend to be more nutrient dense.
I could go on forever listing benefits, but I’ll finish with some practical tools instead.
We know that eating meals together as a family unit has benefits. Surveys show that we really do want to eat more meals together, but people are asking how. And the answer is that you have to make it realistic for you and who you are bringing to the table. Maybe that means just one more meal a week than what you currently do. Maybe that means a family meal for breakfast rather than dinner based on busy evening schedules. Or maybe prepping freezer meals or utilizing crock pot recipes so that dinner can be ready at a reasonable time. See the recipe below for an example of a meal I freezer prepped with my sister during her pregnancy so that she could have something to go to meals when she knew she’d be busy with the baby.
I know many of you reading this may cough at the idea of a “family meal” or the goal of trying to implement more of them in your routine, but I encourage you to think outside of the box. Personally, my family lives in different houses than I do. But this doesn’t mean that I haven’t worked hard this month to include more family meals. For me, this means not coming home late and sitting down at the table in front of my laptop doing work or scrolling through my Instagram account between bites. It means planning and cooking a meal with a friend rather than going out for happy hour. It means calling my grandma and scheduling a dinner with her this week and inviting my mom and dad over for a “Meatless Monday” and an evening walk together. To me, it means bringing dinner to my sister and her family to help them have just one more meal together that they don’t have to stress over making. Find what family meal means to you, personally, and make it happen.
Turkey Zucchini Noodle Lasagna
This turkey zucchini lasagna is healthy and easy - the perfect way to bring your busy self to a sit down enjoyable meal. Packed with vegetables and can be prepped in advance and frozen until you want it!
- 5 zucchini sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices to resemble lasagna noodles
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- 17 oz light ricotta
- 1 egg
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 cups spinach chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 lb lean ground turkey
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 pinch salt
- 22 oz jar ofyour favorite pasta sauce
Arrange zucchini slices on a baking sheet. Spray both sides of zucchini slices with oil, and broil for 6 minutes per side (turn half-way through), or until lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and remove rack from oven.
Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Sautee onion until soft and translucent. Add 2 cloves garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Add ground turkey and cook for about 10 minutes, until cooked through and no pink remains. Drain the pan if necessary.
Add the oregano, salt, and pasta sauce, and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
Separately stir the ricotta, egg, salt, spinach and basil in a large bowl.
Assemble the lasagna in a 9x13 pan. Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce. Top with half of the lasagna 'noodles', followed by half of the ricotta mixture, ¾ cup of shredded mozzarella, and half of the remaining sauce. Repeat, finishing with the tomato sauce.
To bake immediately: Bake uncovered at 375°F for 20 minutes, spread with the remaining ½ cup mozzarella, and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.
Allow lasagna to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving (this helps it set).
To freeze for later: Assemble lasagna as directed above, then cover with foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. To bake from frozen, pre-heat oven to 375°F. Bake (covered) for 45 minutes. Remove foil, and bake for 15 more minutes, until cheese is bubbly.
Recipe adapted from Sweet Peas and Saffron when created for my sister to use in prep for her third baby. With five hungry mouths at dinner time, I wanted to make it easier for her to keep her kids happy, her husband full, and her life easier. Sister Dietitian approved.