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Living Well In Yalobusha County

The Family Table Offers Nutrition Benefits – And More!

By Pamela Redwine

According to recent research, kids who eat frequent family dinners also eat more calcium, iron, fiber, and several vitamins, and less saturated fat and trans fats.  They also eat more fruits or vegetables daily.  Family mealtime offers more than nutrition to school-aged kids:  some studies link frequent family meals to healthier weight, better school performance, and language development from family “talk time” at the table – and for teens, less risk for substance abuse.  So the family table matters!

Telling kids to eat nutritious foods and have good table manners is one thing; showing them is better!  The family table promotes family bonding – a time to talk, listen, and create family memories.

• Eat as a family – if possible, at least once a day.  If it’s breakfast, set the table the night before for less effort in the morning.

• If your family is always “on the go”, designate family dinner nights.  Planning ahead makes it easier to fit family meals in.

• Cook fast, eat slowly.  Spend your kitchen time together at the table rather than on making a fancy meal.

• Turn off the TV, and put the phone answering system on to make food and family important.

• Eat around the table, not side by side at the counter.  That’s better for conversation and eye contact.

• Keep family mealtime positive:  pleasant talk, a chance for everyone (including your child) to share and get attention, a mealtime that’s neither rushed nor prolonged.

Children need to make their own food decisions.  They usually eat better when they feel in control of their choices.  As an adult, provide a variety of nutrient-rich foods – new and familiar – from which your child can choose.

• Let your child choose what and how much to eat from what you offer.  Respect his or her food preferences and appetite.  Help your child learn to eat slowly and pay attention to feeling full.  By learning hunger and fullness cues, your child will learn to eat enough, but not overeat.  Give your child the freedom to politely refuse foods he or she doesn’t want.

• Involve kids in planning meals and snacks.  It’s a chance to practice making food decisions.  Children often eat foods that they help plan and prepare.

• Encourage your child to try new foods – without forcing or bribing them.  Trying new foods is like a new hobby; it expands his or her food knowledge, experience, and skills.  Include foods from cultures other than your own.  Acknowledge that your child will like some, but not all, of those foods.  That’s okay.

Kids learn to like foods they eat often.  If you offer fruits and vegetables regularly – and if they see you eating them – your child likely will learn to like them.

 What children eat over several days count – not what they eat for one meal or one day.  There’s no need for concern if your child occasionally skips food-group foods or doesn’t eat much at a meal.

Children develop good eating habits when meal times and snack times are pleasant.  Meal time stress can lead to emotional over-eating or under-eating, so try to avoid fussing, nagging, arguing, or complaining at the table.

If you aren’t eating together as a family, make plans to start.  September 20 – 26, 2009 is Eat Dinner Together Week.  Enjoy!


Recipe of the Week

Make-Ahead Cheese and Hamburger Casserole

Make-Ahead Tips:  The penne does not have to be cooked beforehand because it absorbs the liquid when refrigerated overnight.  If you want to make it the same day, cook the pasta before combining with all the ingredients.


1 pound ground round

1 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 (8-ounce) package sliced fresh mushrooms

6 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk

1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

4 cups uncooked penne (tube-shaped pasta)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)


1. Combine ground round, chopped onion, and garlic in a large skillet, and cook over medium-high heat until beef is browned, stirring to crumble.  Add mushrooms, and cook 5 minutes or until tender.  Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients, and stir well.  Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.  Set aside.

2. Place flour in a medium saucepan.  Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended.  Place over medium heat; cook 10 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly.  Stir in cheeses, and cook 3 minutes or until cheeses melt, stirring constantly.  Reserve 1/2 cup cheese sauce.  Pour remaining cheese sauce, beef mixture, and pasta into a 13×9-inch baking dish, and stir gently.  Drizzle reserved cheese sauce over pasta mixture.  Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated and pasta is tender; sprinkle with fresh parsley, if desired.

Yield:  8 servings

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