Monthly Health Message:

Fast Family Dinners for Busy Folks

March 2015

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Strong family bonds and eating together are important for children and all family members. Did you know that kids in families who eat together are more confident and score better on tests at school? Cooking dinner every night takes weekly planning and good management skills to make sure you have needed ingredients on hand for recipes to prepare main meal items.

Thinking and planning ahead is all part of good self-management which teaches kids the value of organizational skills. It can be tricky to schedule regular meals and include everyone in the family so you sit down together and eat meals together. The stronger your family feels about mealtimes being “together time,” the more likely you will build social bonds as well as improve the health of family members.

Below are some tips for preparing nutritious meals that are healthy. So, before you head to the grocery store, consider the following criteria for choosing healthier food options:

  • Include at least one selection from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and protein foods, at all meals.
  • Limit your intake of foods that are high in fat.
  • Incorporate high-fiber foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, dry beans, nuts and seeds.
Make meals a family affair from picking recipes, planning the shopping list, going to the grocery store to purchase food, and preparing meals. Even if everyone is busy and in a rush, families can still work together to prepare a meal. For example, adults can be in charge of the entrée, older kids can prepare a salad, and little ones can set the table.

Here's a balanced and nutritious dinner that the entire family will love: Mediterranean chicken breast (a boneless, skinless chicken breast baked for 20 minutes with lemon juice and a pinch of oregano topped with feta cheese); steamed broccoli; brown rice; vanilla low-fat yogurt topped with fresh berries; and a glass of water.

To make the most of family meals, make conversation a key part of the dining experience including asking kids to share what happened during their day and encouraging all the adults to share issues that are important to the family. Do not allow discord or disagreements at the table that may cause stress and anger. Keep meal times, enjoyable and happy times for the family.
Finally, make sure to reduce distractions by turning off the TV and phones and instead tune in to your loved ones. Small steps to improve family meals will improve family bonding and communication and provide the nourishment and environment for healthy living.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences