Catrinel Stanciu | 4/16/2005 2:00:45 AM
If your family ate together for a holiday meal, eat together after the holidays, advises LSU AgCenter food and nutrition expert Catrinel Stanciu.
You always hear that family time is very important during the holidays, and eating together as a family allows you to spend more time with loved ones. Whether you cook regularly or just once a year, holidays are when almost everybody spends some time in the kitchen.
This is great, but happens after the holidays? Usually everybody goes back to their old routine, whether it’s eating in front of the TV or in the car on the way to work.
Stanciu says that in today’s world people are willing to pay for convenience, and the food industry really excels in showing us how convenient it is never to have to cook. "Convenient meals," however, are not always healthy. Portion sizes have gotten out of control at the same time overweight and obesity are sky rocketing. After we voluntarily pay for convenience, we may find ourselves having to pay for health care.
The nutrition expert says to remember that healthy cooking means healthy eating, and healthy meals begin at home. With good planning and a little help, you can put together quick, nutritious, healthy meals for you and your family.
Among other benefits, being together as a family at mealtimes is very important for overall health and well-being. "With our busy schedules, it is very difficult sometimes to achieve this goal, but research has shown that we should make this a priority," Stanciu says.
Whether you live by yourself or you have a big family, remember that everybody deserves a healthy meal. According to American Institute for Cancer Research, nearly 26 percent of Americans live alone. Usually, single people tend to eat out more or assemble meals at home from prepared foods.
Results from a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy show that more than 42 percent of all singles do not cook even one meal per day at home. With a little bit of planning, single people can prepare nutritious and satisfying meals.
Stanciu suggests inviting a relative or a friend over and spending some quality time while enjoying a healthy meal. For those with big families, remember that eating together as a family is healthy for both children and adults. Children who spend time at the table with their families have better language skills and perform better in school.
Eating together with your family promotes healthy eating habits and positive social interaction among family members. It’s a good opportunity to spend some time with your children and teach them to value mealtime, taste new foods and enjoy eating. This would be a good replacement for the "pizza and Coke dinner" served in the front of the TV.
During mealtime, the TV should be turned off and family members should be allowed to interact with each other. Research has shown that sedentary lifestyle combined with eating high-fat foods, like usual TV snacks, are serious risk factors for obesity and heart disease.
Foods should be served in an appealing manner, using nice plates and silverware. You don’t have to use the good holiday china, but don’t bring back the plastic plates!
All family members should be involved in meal preparation, table setting and cleaning up. With that kind of participation, children can learn and have fun at the same time.
Stanciu says also to think of meal preparation as healthy exercise. It is not a high-intensity exercise, but is much better than sitting on the couch watching TV or playing a computer game. Participation also will keep youngsters occupied until the meal is on the table, so snacking is avoided.
If you are going to serve a salad as part of the meal, let the children make their own salad using their favorite ingredients. If they are involved in preparing it, they will be more tempted to taste it. Just make sure you have healthy, nutritious ingredients.
Stanciu says to remember that when we eat together, we eat better. Children, especially teen-agers, are not willing to improve their diets, and they tend to live on a limited number of foods. By using some healthy cooking habits and maybe altering some recipes a little bit, you may be able to please their tastes with more nutritious foods.
Portion size is a key to healthy eating. Most people can stabilize or even lose weight by gradually reducing portion sizes. Plates don’t have to be cleaned up! Keep some leftovers for later. Leftovers can make delicious cold sandwiches, soups or salads.
If eating together at least once a day hasn’t been part of your family routine, but you did it for the holidays, don’t stop!
For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension
/Departments/fcs/. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.