Quick and easy pasta to the rescue! Enjoy spending less time in the kitchen with some of the best 30-minute pasta dishes around. We know that children from families that eat dinner together at least five times a week have lower rates of depression and anxiety disorder, as well as higher academic performance, so gathering the family around the table is more important than ever. From homemade alfredo sauce to one skillet spaghetti, these pasta dishes are kid-friendly as well as tasty for adults, too!
Like all good intentions (especially those pertaining to parenting, it seems), the family dinner is a concept that's great in theory but difficult in execution. If your kids are little, then you're likely to be walking a tight line between dinner and bedtime. Then, as they get older, sports practices and after-school activities get in the way. And that's not even factoring in Mom and Dad's professional, social, and otherwise time-consuming obligations.
Anyway, we "get it," so we're hoping you'll share . . . Exactly how often does your entire family sit down and eat dinner together? Let us know in the poll below, and share your additional thoughts, frustrations, tips, and tricks on the matter below. No judgment — we promise!
Picky, picky, picky! Any parent that's ever dealt with a picky eater knows how frustrating it can be. It's a constant battle to force the kids to finish the broccoli on the plate or even eat a few bites of the meal mama preciously prepared. Marta De Wulf, a nutritionist, mother, and cofounder of a nutrition iPad app for parents and kids called Smash Your Food ($3), offers up these tried-and-true tips to help parents learn more about their children's food preferences so the food wars can end once and for all.
- Stop the name-calling: Avoid labeling or calling your child as a "picky eater." It only gives your child permission to push food away. Instead teach them discernment or discuss why they choose a particular food over another, which is a healthy behavior.
- Start a conversation: Children are very sensorial and they often judge what they see first. Introduce new foods (or foods your child has previously rejected) and have a conversation about it. Start by saying to your child, "I don't mind if you like this or not, what I want to know is what do you see? Describe it to me? Do you like or dislike the color? Smell? Texture?"
Think sitting down and sharing a meal as a family is just about a warm, fuzzy feeling? A new study by the journal Pediatrics says it may be much more than that. The study found that kids (aged 2 to 17) who shared at least three meals a week with their families were less likely to be overweight, eat junk food, or develop an eating disorder, and more likely to eat produce. I ate meals with my family more often than not as a kid, and these findings make perfect sense to me: family meals typically consisted of homemade pasta, grilled chicken, or turkey burgers, plus lots of fruits of veggies. Meals with friends, on the other hand, usually happened at In-N-Out! Did you sit down for family meals growing up? How did it affect your eating habits?
Meatloaf, again? Every mama has a dinner that she can practically make with her eyes closed. She turns to it when she's pressed for time or just isn't in the mood to think up a new meal. Whether it's breakfast for dinner or another variation of rotisserie chicken, we want to know what you cook up on a regular basis. I'll kick things off with my top three go-to dinners for the kids:
- Pasta and meatballs
- Rotisserie chicken with roasted potatoes
- Tilapia fingers with corn and snow peas
Share your easy meals with us in the comments below!
Soup's on, here come the questions! Mom of three, Cristy Clarke started playing a game with her young kids to kick off meal time conversation and the concept spurred into her business, TableTopics. Seven years later, the family card blocks ($25) help other busy parents reconnect with their offspring. I recently had a chance to talk with the game guru.
LilSugar: There's so much research that points to the benefits of families eating together. Can you speak to how TableTopics empowers that concept?
Cristy Clarke: That's really the heart of where this idea came from. I would come up with questions and put them in a basket on our table at night. I felt strongly that we have dinner together and it was always either everybody trying to talk over each other or nobody really wanted to say anything. When I had these questions, we had so much fun and I learned so much about my kids and what they thought about things. It really leveled the playing field from the oldest to the youngest because everyone got to have a say about what they thought was right because there was really no right answer. The girls would pull the questions out when they had friends over and their friends loved them, and I started getting calls from their moms asking where they could get the questions. So the idea was born that I could provide these questions to other families — especially busy families who have parents come home from work and are tired — just to be able to sit down for a couple minutes, turn off the TV, and have a good conversation.
LilSugar: Your daughters are now 14, 17, and 18, do you see the results and the rewards of your efforts (eating together and engaging them)?
CC: It's gotten harder as my girls have gone into high school, but most every day we sit down to eat. It's when we can share our days and talk to each other about things. It's really helped our family get through the years that can be difficult for parents and teens. The questions are props to talk about things that can be hard for parents and teens to discuss when they are arguing.
LilSugar: Is there a particular question that sparked a good conversation or debate that is memorable?
CC: I've always really enjoyed the questions that we have about what we remember from the past, not just memories, but the things that my kids are most proud of — those really stand out for me because my kids remember things that were big deals to them, but as a parent it wasn't. It's fun to hear from their perspectives, the things they most enjoyed about the trips we have taken, what they were most proud of when they were in grammar school, or the things they were most afraid of. I love the questions that make us look back because we remember from different point of view. Nobody is right or wrong.
Some families use meals to connect with one another and others eat while staying connected. Smartphones, iPads, and laptops find their way to dinner tables that were once reserved for conversation and nourishment. Even when mom and dad take their darlings out to eat, they may turn on a movie to entertain the kiddos so the parents can eat in peace. What's your take on mealtime technology use?
Source: Flick User divemasterking2000
There comes a point in life when a mother must broach a subject that she's not sure how to approach. Some mamas may get straight to the point and fire away while others sit and brew waiting for the perfect moment to arrive. Instead of mulling things over and making the situation uncomfortable, mom and dad can help create an open line of communication with a question box. Take an old shoebox and let the youngsters decorate it as they see fit then cut a slit in the top of it. During the week the kids and parents can toss in their questions in and the conversation will start to flow on Sunday night at dinner when the parents pull slips of paper from it to discuss. Eventually, the box can be tossed and mealtime becomes a time of free flowing discussion.
Tots of all ages love to build. While blocks may be the most common material used to create towers and castles, you can easily channel your lil one's enthusiasm to the dinner table with a meal that is meant to be creatively constructed. Taco bars allow you to present a variety of items to your finicky eater, while allowing him to build his own masterpiece.
YumSugar has a number of taco recipes ranging from fish and meat to vegetarian from which you can create the base of your meal. Then, simply fill bowls with various toppings from which your family can choose. Possible fillings can include rice, corn, salsa, beans, cheese, tomatoes and more. Offer up both taco shells and tortillas to give your budding chefs an opportunity to compare the textures and then watch them build the entree on their plates. For those kids who need a little encouragement to try something new, create a contest to see who can include the most colors in their taco or who can build the tallest one.
How important is breaking bread with the family? Statistics show that when parents eat with their kids at least five times a week, the children have lower rates of depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse as well as higher academic performance than those who don't. Check out our slideshow for five tips on how you can get your brood to the table for mealtime despite the hustle and bustle of a dual income home and your tot's laundry list of activities.