The healthy family dinner is getting squeezed from all sides. Parents are working later, children are busy with extracurricular activities and fast food offers a tempting quick fix for hungry, busy tummies.
But for those who can swing it, there are a host of emotional benefits to eating dinner together as a family, and they include increased resilience, higher self-esteem and better academic performances for children.
And for people who can make dinners nutritious, those benefits are also physical. Research shows that kids who eat dinners at home with their family eat more fruits and vegetables, and are less likely to be obese, than their peers who eat alone.
Take a look at the way five nutritionists prepare for their family dinners. You'll notice some are fans of Sunday meal prep, which is when they cook the building blocks of their meals all in one go. But what we enjoyed most about their dinner diaries is the fact that dinner planning is highly charged with nostalgic feelings about what their own parents did, or the tastes and textures they grew up with. Beyond simply serving up a lean protein, vegetables and a high-fiber grain, these nutritionists are passing down heritage and tradition with each dinner they make.
Grilled meat, steamed vegetables and tortillas
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, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, usually eats dinner after he works out. That means his dinners are high in lean protein like turkey breast patties, grilled marinated chicken or crock pot beef — all dishes that he makes beforehand on Sundays. He adds steamed vegetables and corn tortillas to round the meal out, and for dessert he eats dark chocolate or a cup of skim milk.
He eats this way not only for mix of lean protein, carbs and fiber, but because it sets a healthy example for his 3-year-old son, too.
"I call whatever protein we are having that night his 'Power Bites,' and he eats them up and flexes his muscles because he knows they make him strong,” Delbridge wrote in an e-mail to HuffPost. "I want him to see his parents eating the same thing he is eating so he can start early building those healthy habits."
Herbed chicken, vegetables and brown rice
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, a registered dietitian nutritionist, calls himself the “meal orchestrator” for his family. Because both he and his wife work full-time jobs, they plan a few big meals that can last throughout the week. This week the family will be eating herbed chicken, beets, carrots, spinach and brown rice in between basketball practice, music class and workouts for mom and dad. To help their two young sons eat healthy meals, Willis has what he called the “family food rule”: each plate must have four or five different colors on it (and white, brown and yellow sometimes counts as the same color).
And on Fridays, Willis splashes out with a fun meal like a homemade pizza, kale chips, carrot french fries and smoothies for dessert. Willis says he models his meal-planning on how his mom, who worked full-time and raised her children alone, planned their meals.
"She successfully kept food on the table, meals balanced and tummies full,” Willis said. "I have evolved her technique to suit my family while maintaining the love of a home cooked meal."
Seafood, pickled vegetables and miso soup
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, a nutritionist with the insurance company Healthfirst, draws on his Hawaiian upbringing and love of seafood and Asian cuisine to plan his meals. His father was a fisherman and brought home fresh seafood constantly, Valdez says, whether it was his own catch or gifts of king crab from his friends.
"Additionally, I grew up consuming all types of Asian-fusion dishes and enjoyed the various and large quantity of vegetables that were used,” he said. "With all the phytochemicals, flavor, fiber, color, and high-nutrition value of vegetables, it has become second nature to cook a well balanced-meal without compromising taste."
Valdez says his staple foods include kimchee, Tsukemono (pickled Japanese vegetables), okra, bitter melon and miso soup. He eats these side dishes with salmon or tofu, which he flavors with ginger, garlic, shallots, soy sauce, sesame oil, bonito (fish flakes), Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese peppers) and Furikake (Japanese seasonings). He calls brown rice his “gold standard” starch.
Korean BBQ, kimchee and cucumber salad
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is a dietitian with the Veterans Health Administration at VA Puget Sound and owner of ACP Nutrition
in Seattle, Washington. When he plans dinners, he has to keep in mind the tastes of his wife (a trained pastry chef), 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. Because of his Hispanic and Asian heritage and his wife’s Italian-Swiss ethnicity, Planells says their menus resemble the United Nations.
One dinner might be Korean barbecue with rice, kimchee and spicy cucumber salad. Another might be ribolita (Italian bread soup) with cannellini beans, tomato, onions, kale and bacon.
There are two principles that guide Planells’ meal plans: serving high-quality protein and at least two different kinds of vegetables, and a responsibility to expose their kids to new dishes from around the world.
Tofu stir fry and quinoa
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Dietitian Vandana Sheth
throws together a quick veggie stir fry made with frozen veggies, tofu and flavored with garlic, ginger and spices. Then she serves it over brown rice or quinoa.
“It is a quick, easy and flavorful meal to pull together,” she says.
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