Family Meal Time Provides More Than Nutrition

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With the beginning of the school year approaching, summer is nearly over. Schedules will tighten up with extra-curricular and athletic events, which can make family mealtime nearly impossible. For families with children, research tells us that regular meals together reduces the risk of teenage depression, pregnancy, and alcohol and drug abuse, while increasing academic achievement. These positive effects depend on the extent to which parents use meal time to engage with their children and learn about their day-to-day lives. Eating dinner while being distracted, such as staring at phones or watching TV doesn’t yield the same benefits.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, finding a routine time to communicate with children is what’s important. If making dinner connections are impossible due to scheduling issues, try checking in over breakfast, a healthy snack or even beverage. Time in the car together may be a good chance to communicate.

Nutritionally, family meals inspire us to try a greater variety. All people, no matter what age, tend to eat familiar and easily prepared foods when left alone. When children are developing their palates, lack of variety may lead to picky, unhealthy eating.

Even if family members are eating at different times, having prepared recipes that only need to be heated usually provides better nutrition and variety. Think of such recipes as “planned-overs” instead of leftovers. Cooking twice as much than is needed at a meal is smart, since two meals may be produced for just a little bit more effort.

I like to grill extra chicken thighs on the weekend and have them ready for other meals during the week. When they are hot off the grill, I may serve them with baked potatoes and a vegetable. Later in the week, they are great for sandwiches, salads, and tossed into stir-fried vegetables. This salad recipe is simple and refreshing with a citrus twist.

Grilled Chicken Salad

Makes 6 servings

4 cups salad greens, cut as desired

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (optional)

4 mandarin oranges, peeled

2 apples, sliced

½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts or other nut

4 chicken thighs or 2 breasts, grilled and then sliced


5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or other oil if not available)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

¼ cup orange juice

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Mix the salad greens and fennel in a bowl. Place the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Toss with green mixture. Place the greens on plates and top with the oranges, apples, nuts, and chicken. Serve with a hearty slice of cheese toast or crackers.