As busy and stressful as life can get, there are so many benefits to having dinner together as a family. From social and emotional development to decreased picky eating and better grades in school, you should try making family meals a priority.



I know what you’re thinking...between work, school, extracurricular activities, friends and meetings, it’s nearly impossible to sit down together as a family and eat. And then there’s the planning, cooking, plating, and cleaning.


I know, I get it.


And this isn’t even taking the current school year into account where your kids may all have different school schedules where you wake up not knowing which day of the week it is or which kid is in cohort A and goes to school on Mondays and Wednesdays. (Or is it Tuesdays and Thursdays??!!)


But every small effort you put into this will pay off. And you’ll find it much easier if you don’t overcomplicate things.


Parents shape a children’s eating environment in so many ways. From the food choices in the home to timing and location of meals and comments around food, parents are children’s primary benchmark of food culture.


What constitutes a family meal anyway?


It’s any meal where some of the family sit down together and eat. It can be breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. And it can be any family member. Maybe your spouse always works late and it’s just you and one child at home. OK...don’t pass up that opportunity to eat together.


Let’s discuss the benefits of eating meals together as a family, why eating dinner together as a family is particularly important for picky eaters, and how to put together easy family meals.


What are the benefits of eating family meals together?


1. Improved mental health


Family connectedness (feelings of love and warmth from parents) has been shown to improve mental health and well-being among teenagers. In females, higher self-esteem has been found with more frequent family meals. Some research points to females benefitting more than males with increased family dinners and with strong family bonds. Adolescence is a crucial time for establishing routines important for mental well-being.


2. Better grades in school


Studies show that children who have more frequent family meals tend to have better grades in school. This might be due to a stronger positive relationship with a parent, increased self-esteem or less TV time.


3. Lower risk of substance abuse and teen pregnancy.


4. Better social skills


Eating dinner together has been shown to increase the quality and frequency of communication. Communication is a skill - where better to learn it than with your family that loves and accepts you for who you are.


5. Overall healthier eating and decreased picky eating


One study found that families, where mothers felt that mealtimes were an opportunity for quality time, had children with healthier diets. Children who sit down to more frequent family meals tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, less saturated fats, sugar, fried food and soda.


For children, eating is typically a social occasion. Children’s food preferences and eating behaviors are influenced by their parents, other adults, peers and siblings, as well as children's observations of others' eating behavior. The whole social atmosphere around eating helps develop a child’s eating patterns.


Children who eat the same foods as their parents are nutritionally better off. And this holds true whether or not children eat meals with their parents or not. Parents do not do their children any favors by creating separate children’s meals when children refuse the family dinner. Just take a look at the children’s meals in restaurants; they are of inferior nutritional quality. I explain some tips below on how to encourage children to eat the same meals as parents.


6. Decreased risk of overweight


There is a general finding that children (and adults, for that matter) who remain at the table until everyone has finished eating have lower BMIs than families who do not. Having meaningful conversations at dinner about their day also correlated with significantly lower family BMIs.


Additionally, eating anywhere other than a kitchen or a dining room is related to higher BMIs and overweight. This is especially true when it comes to eating in front of television.


This makes sense on many levels. For one, eating in front of television is a form of distracted, mindless eating. It also tends to be under less supervision, leading to a lower diet quality.


It seems to be that strong, positive emotions and familial connections take the place of the desire to overeat.


There is one caveat to this, though...parents who try to decrease their child’s energy consumption (especially in females) often find it backfires. Even with the best intentions, parents who try to decrease how much their child eats results in a higher body weight. It can start with mealtime struggles with elementary school-aged children, silence in a pre-teen, and disordered eating as a teenager.


Parental control around food has been found to influence children’s preference for high-fat, energy-dense foods, limit a child’s willingness to try new food and disrupts a child’s internal regulation of hunger and satiety; ie, a child’s own self-control around food. It also encourages the picky eater to continue to be so.


7. Decreased risk of disordered eating


Adolescents who have more family meals have a lower rate of disordered eating including vomiting, laxative use, binge eating, and frequent dieting. This could be due to a stronger parent-child bond, made, in part, by socializing every day at mealtime. (As long as it’s a positive atmosphere.)


Another explanation may be that eating dinner together encourages regular meal consumption, which may prevent disordered eating behaviors.


These are 7 reasons why family meals are so important to children’s development of healthy eating behaviors. Now, how do you do it?


Well, I can’t talk about family meals without mentioning the Division Of Responsibility, which is an evidence-based approach to feeding developed by Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter.


Division of Responsibility in Feeding


The Division of Responsibility in feeding states that parents determine the what, when, and where of feeding. Children determine how much to eat or whether to eat at all. In this model, a parents’ job is to plan and prepare nourishing, balanced meals at planned times during the day. A child’s job is to determine if they want to eat it and how much to choose.


Letting children serve themselves food is even more advantageous. This puts kids in control of their own hunger and fullness cues. This tells them that you, the parent, trust that they can regulate their own barometers and not be subjected to external pressure around food.


This takes away the struggles at mealtime and creates a positive environment where kids want to imitate adults’ food preferences and will feel empowered to try new foods.

Some tips to start planning family meals:

  1. Have planned meals and snacks during the day

  2. Balance those meals with proteins, carbohydrates, fruits and/or vegetables

  3. Sit down together as often as possible; even if it’s just you and the kids. Or you and one kid.

  4. Turn off the TV

  5. Have positive discussions at mealtime. Can’t think of anything? Try going around the table and asking what the best part of everyone’s day was. Or, with younger children, ask this-or-that questions. (Do you like red apples better or yellow ones? Do you like ice cream more or cake?)

  6. Keep it simple! Don’t overcomplicate things or you won’t want to do it.

Here are some simple family meal ideas:


-Chicken cutlets, broccoli and brown rice

-Taco night with beans/chicken/meat and all the fixings

-Grilled cheese, tomato soup, glass of milk

-Broiled fish and veggies, mashed potatoes

-Turkey burgers on whole grain rolls, baby carrots and hummus

-Tuna sandwiches with apples and celery sticks (Check out some of my tuna sandwich combinations here)



In their article on why family meals are important, The Stanford Children’s Hospital says,

“Mealtime can be looked at as an opportunity or a chore.” I think this is perfect.


Keep meals simple and let the thought go that your child’s entire nutritional well-being is dependent on this meal. Keep all the comments positive - remember, a seat at the family table is a privilege. You might enjoy family meals more than you think.


If you’re not having family meals together right now, what’s stopping you? Let me know!



References:

Brewis A, Gartin M. Biocultural construction of obesogenic ecologies of childhood: parent-feeding versus child-eating strategies. Am J Hum Biol. 2006;18(2):203-213. doi:10.1002/ajhb.20491


Christian MS, Evans CE, Hancock N, Nykjaer C, Cade JE. Family meals can help children reach their 5 a day: a cross-sectional survey of children's dietary intake from London primary schools. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2013;67(4):332–8. doi:10.1136/jech-2012-201604.


Haines J, Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman S, Field AE, Austin SB. Family dinner and disordered eating behaviors in a large cohort of adolescents. Eat Disord. 2010;18(1):10-24. doi:10.1080/10640260903439516


Harrison ME, Norris ML, Obeid N, Fu M, Weinstangel H, Sampson M. Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Can Fam Physician. 2015;61(2):e96-e106.


Litterbach, E.V., Campbell, K.J. & Spence, A.C. Family meals with young children: an online study of family mealtime characteristics, among Australian families with children aged six months to six years. BMC Public Health 17, 111 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-016-3960-6


Schwartz S, Benuck I. Strategies and suggestions for a healthy toddler diet. Pediatr Ann. 2013;42(9):181–3. doi:10.3928/00904481-20130823-09.

Skafida V. The family meal panacea: exploring how different aspects of family meal occurrence, meal habits and meal enjoyment relate to young children's diets. Sociol Health Illn. 2013;35(6):906–23. doi:10.1111/1467-9566.12007.


Wansink B, van Kleef E. Dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014;22(5):E91–5. doi:10.1002/oby.20629.


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Updated: Aug 18

Are you headed back to work after working from home for the past 4 months? Here are 5 ways to ensure you continue the healthy habits you’ve started.

Are you headed back to work after working from home for the past 4 months? Here are 5 ways to ensure you continue the healthy habits you’ve started.


For some, being home the past 4 months has had a negative effect on your healthy lifestyle (and possibly waistline). But for others, and a lot of my clients, they’ve worked to start changing unhealthy habits into healthy ones. They’ve utilized my fueling formula to frontload their calories and nourish themselves using their bodies’ natural hormones and they’ve tapped into some deep-rooted unhealthy habits.


But smart fueling alone isn’t always enough to ensure that you’ll keep the weight off. Keeping up healthy habits often takes an honest analysis of current habits and feelings and requires some systems to help keep those habits in place.


Here are 5 ways to keep up your healthy habits and maintain your weight once you return to work


1. Write it down


Keeping track of what you eat helps in several ways, even if it’s not to count calories. Writing down what you eat (whether on paper or using a web-based program like My Fitness Pal or Lose It) makes you more mindful of everything you consume. The act of this, alone, can help you cut unnecessary calories.


Keeping a detailed food journal can also help you work out feelings and habits you have around eating, hunger, and satiety.


Say you know that mid-afternoon sugar cravings are wrecking your healthy eating plan. Journaling the details surrounding the experience and rating your hunger and satiety is the first step towards tackling that habit. But you might never know it was a habit if you didn’t document it every day.


2. Journal your stressors


This is what you can do if you find that you’re eating of stress or boredom from your food logs. Journaling is really a great tool to uncover how certain behaviors are affecting your eating.


A lot of our food choices are based on habits and emotions. If you don’t address some of the underlying issues surrounding your food intake, you’re bound to repeat the process. Quick diets and detoxes may give you quick weight loss, but you won’t be able to maintain it if you don’t address WHY you eat at times when you’re not hungry.


Start by jotting down how you feel before and after you eat something that’s not our of hunger. Look back over the week and you might start to see a pattern.

Then, try to do something else when that feeling strikes. Have a cup of tea or coffee or snack on something healthy, like a piece of fruit.


You may even find that journaling big feelings in a quiet space in the morning or evening helps break down some of those feelings for which you could plan a stress relieving activity during the day (like working out, chatting with a friend, reading a good book).


For example, if I find that my mid-afternoon snack of cookies always accompanies a trip to the water cooler because I need to stretch my legs at work, I have to break the chain of events at the water cooler. Maybe I could chew some gum and walk around the office. Maybe I could walk to a local spot to grab a cup of tea or coffee.


3. Make a plan


This is probably the most important thing you can do. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.


It’s inevitable to fall victim to lack of time, cravings, peer pressure, and ingrained habits, so you need a plan to counter all these deterrents.


Try setting aside dedicated time on the weekend to plan some meals for the week. (Yes, plan to plan.) Maybe Friday night after the kids go to bed or Saturday morning after breakfast might help you jump-start the week. Review what you have in your fridge and pantry, get out the cookbooks, and plan for the week ahead.


Start with the most complicated meal for you and your family (usually dinner). Keep a running list of meals your family enjoys (believe me, this makes it easier). In our home, we call it the, “We like it list”. Then create a grocery list and shop for the ingredients. Try to prep some things in advance if you can. Again, set aside some time to do this on the weekend.


It’s also helpful to keep healthy snacks around (both at home and work), so when hunger (or boredom) strikes, you know you can grab what you have handy.


Need a little pep start on meal planning healthy meals for your family? Join my 5 day Whole Foods for the Whole Family challenge on Facebook. I’m going live every day to help you plan healthy meals for your family in preparation for the school year! Join my Facebook group here: I'll be announcing it soon in the FullPlateNutrition Facebook group.


4. Exercise


You are not designed to sit at a desk all day, sit on the train for the commute home and then sit in front of TV at night. Your body LOVES to move and burn off fuel and then trigger the need for more fuel with hunger. That’s how our bodies work best.


Moving, whether it be with everyday activity or planned workout routines, helps your body thrive. Exercise isn’t one of those things you can do a few times and then quit...finding something you enjoy doing will help you maintain a healthy level of ongoing activity.


Remember, exercise not only helps maintain weight, but it builds muscle and increases your metabolism, strengthens your heart and lungs, and helps bring sugar from the blood back into the cells for energy where it belongs. (So it’s great for cardiovascular health, prediabetes, and diabetes.)


And it’s not just a consistent exercise/movement routine that’s necessary for staying on track...you also need to decrease the amount of time you’re sedentary.


Yes, a double whammy, I know...so not only should you move more, but you should sit less.

Studies show that prolonged sitting is counterproductive to weight loss and cardiovascular health.


So, make a plan for your physical activity for the week and get moving every hour or so. Try setting a timer on your phone to get up from your desk to use the restroom or grab a drink of water.


And little things count:


-try using the stairs at work

-park further from your destination and walk (In NYC, I plan ahead of time that I’m going to grab the first parking spot I see and walk...even if it’s 10 blocks from work (and it usually is, *sigh*)

-go for a walk on your lunch break. Bring a cumfy pair of sneakers and grab a colleague. If you can, walk before you eat, so you feel less sluggish during your walk.

-plan to go to the gym right before or after work. Stopping at home may distract you from going.


Join my Facebook group for free monthly exercise challenges: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FullPlateNutrition/


5. Start loving your body


Shame and dislike of your body is doing you more harm than you think. Those negative feelings influence decisions around food and exercise.


That shame and guilt cycle often leads you to eating more unhealthy foods, anyway.

How to start? Try:


-Writing down one thing every night that you love about yourself

-Keeping a gratitude journal of 3 things for which you’re grateful every day. I do think with my kids right before bed. This way, we’re all sharing positive experiences together.

-Don’t hide behind your clothes - or behind the camera. Think of how your kids view you - always loving and beautiful! They will want to look back at old photos and see their beautiful mom!


To recap, 5 Ways to Keep Up Your Healthy Habits Once You Go Back to Work:


  1. Keep a food log

  2. Journal your stressors

  3. Make a plan

  4. Exercise

  5. Love your body


Let me know which one you’re going to commit to doing!


  • Theresa Gentile

Updated: Jul 14

These easy ice pops have everything I love in them…peaches, cream and vegetables! The kids won’t know you stuck some cauliflower into these guilt-free treats.




I can’t help myself. I love cold treats and I love making them healthy, especially for the kids.

And I love saying yes to seconds.


I’ve made these two different ways. The first time, I just blenderized the cauliflower in with the rest of the ingredients. And, although, the cauliflower didn't completely pulverize (I probably could have done a better job at blending it - I mixed it in a regular blender and I could have used the Ninja), my kids still ate it and weren't one bit bothered by the slightly grainy texture.

The second time I made these ice pops, I made a sort of cauliflower cream first. Then, I blended all the ingredients together. This made for a creamier texture, so even the pickiest of food sleuths would be duped. The cauliflower cream requires cooking the cauliflower first, so it definitely takes more time than just throwing it all in the blender. It's also something you can do in advance and freeze if you happen to find yourself with the rare opportunity of excess cauliflower and excess time.

In regards to the peaches, I’ve used a combination of fresh with skin, and rinsed, canned peaches successfully. I’ll often cut pieces of overripe peaches or pieces my kids don’t want to eat and throw them in the freezer where they’ll await their ice pop fate. I keep the skins on to preserve the fiber and nutrient profile.


Peaches and Cauliflower Cream Ice Pops


Makes about 6 pops


Ingredients:

2 cups sliced peaches (fresh/frozen/canned with or without skin)

1 teaspoon almond extract (optional, but highly recommend)

For the cauliflower cream:

1 cup chopped cauliflower (fresh or frozen)

1 cup water

1 cup milk, skim or 1%

2-3 Tablespoons half and half

To make the Cauliflower Cream:

Bring cauliflower and 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cook for 5-7 minutes until cauliflower is tender.


Let cool slightly. Blenderize the cauliflower mixture by removing the cooked cauliflower and ~1/4 cup of the liquid into a blender. Puree until completely combined. Then, add the milk and cream and pulse to combine. If you’d like it thinner, you can add more of the cooking liquid and combine.


Then, add peaches and almond extract to a blender and mix to pureed consistency.


If you’re not making the cauliflower cream:

Add cauliflower, ½ cup milk, 3 Tbsp half and half, peaches and almond extract to a blender and mix until pureed to desired consistency.


Pour into ice pop molds, freeze and enjoy!


Nutrition Facts:

Per pop: (using 1% milk and 3 Tbsp half and half)


Calories: 52.5

Fat: 1.5 grams

Protein: 2.5 grams

Carbohydrates: 8


Let me know if you make them!

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