Sheltering at home has created a unique opportunity for families to share family mealtimes. While this is an adjustment, it is also an opportunity to establish habits and learn skills that will continue long after the world begins to broaden to  do more activities away from home. Read on to learn the benefits and some tips for making this an easier, more enjoyable time.

There are significant benefits to be gained from shared family cooking and meals:

  • Families eating home-cooked meals generally eat less junk food than those whose dinners come from a drive-through window or the frozen convenience food aisle of the supermarket.
  • Parents and kids to spend time together doing something that is not tied to television and technology. Most experts say unplugging from electronic devices is key for family meal success.
  • It creates opportunities for conversation (which is becoming a lost art) and hones communication skills that are under-used in our screen-intensive world.
  • Studies show that teens in the habit of family meals have better self-esteem, are better students and are less likely to exhibit risky behaviors like smoking and drinking.
  • Everyone feel they are contributing to the family by working together to prepare the foods they eat.
  • Children are more likely to try new foods if they have helped make them–especially when they see other family members eating them.
  • Children begin to master cooking skills that they will use the rest of their lives and learn to eat nourishing food.

We at the Chef Marshall O’Brien Group frequently mention that preparing tasty real food needn’t be complicated and time consuming. Here are some key tips to remember.

Stock up on snacks that nourish

Lately, has your refrigerator asking you, “What do you want now?” For families with young children (and for the rest of us who are stuck at home right now), snacks are a regular part of the daily rhythm. Avoid stocking processed snack foods and keep fruits and veggies handy. Add some cheese sticks, nitrate-free beef sticks or nuts for a satisfying bit of protein and healthy fat. A bowl of fruit on the counter and veggie sticks in the fridge will increase everyone’s consumption of fruits and veggies—and you can quickly chop the veggie sticks to add to a salad at dinnertime.

Wash it down with water

Stick with water or milk for beverages – drinks like juice and soda are loaded with empty calories and sugar that offer no nutrition. Try diluting your juice with water, or switch from soda to sparkling fruit juice, then sparkling flavored water, and finally sparkling water. A squirt of lemon or lime adds a fresh kick to water.

Make meal-planning and prep a family affair

Young children feel empowered when given their own mealtime responsibilities. Older kids can help with more complicated tasks and upgrade their cooking skills. Find age-appropriate ways for your children to help with family mealtimes. The more involved they are the more excited they will be to eat the nourishing food you serve.

Balance your plate for easy meal-planning

Meal-planning needn’t be a complicated exercise. Use this simple formula to fill your plate:

  • Half full of veggies
  • One quarter protein
  • One quarter whole grain, legume or other complex (slow) carbohydrate

Get to know your sheet pan and skillet

Sheet pan suppers and skillet stir-fries are easy and family friendly. And, they make clean-up a cinch – only one dirty pan! They also provide perfect one-container leftover meals. Our Curried Chicken and Sweet Potatoes recipe will get you started.

It doesn’t have to be dinner

When coordinating shared dinner prep is not feasible, choose another meal, like breakfast, as your family mealtime experience.

Nutrition labels are your friends

Work to reduce the amount of packaged food you eat and choose minimally processed vegetables, fruits, whole grains and meats and dairy. Review packaged foods’ nutrition labels for options that are more nourishing and contain less sugar and fewer artificial ingredients.

Take-out is better than nothing

There may be days when the whole family needs a break from cooking and want to support a local restaurant. If you haven’t planned a meal ahead of time, sit down for a meal of take-out. You will still reap the benefits of a family meal – it’s the togetherness that counts!

Small Goals Lead to Big Changes

Coordinating family meals may seem like a juggling act at first, but once you get into a rhythm, this will become a normal part of your family’s week. Now is the time to start, when other activities are scarce and meals are focused at home. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly, but take baby steps toward your goal. It will be fun and rewarding on many levels. And it will be well worth continuing when sheltering at home is no longer required.