Soon, the kids will be back in school and the mad rush will be on to juggle after-school activities with work schedules, family and church commitments, homework and other day-to-day responsibilities.
Let’s be honest: When families are overscheduled and overcommitted, something has to give. All too often, that something is healthy, family meals. It’s so easy to pick up a burger and fries at the fast food restaurant on the corner, and scarf it down in the car on the way to the next commitment.
We rely on fast food because it’s fast, easy, and cheap.
Or is it?
“Fast food comes at price that is extraordinarily high,” says Lexington Clinic dietitian Bethany Borders, RD, LD, CDE. “To calculate the actual cost, you have to consider more than dollars and cents. You have to think about the food’s affect on your overall health, your happiness and relationships and the quality and length of your life.” There is a direct line, Borders said, that can be drawn between fast food consumption and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
The fact that these health problems start much earlier in life – even in childhood – should give parents some pause. “I fear we are setting our children up for a lifetime of pain, disability and suffering, all for the sake of convenience,” Borders said.
Today, one in three American children is overweight or obese. Kids in their teens are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, something that was unheard of just a few decades ago. Poor nutrition has been linked to problems with learning, anxiety, mental health issues, cancer, osteoporosis and more.
Something else to consider
As important as getting healthy food is, family meal time is about much more. Family dinners are about connections, relationships and belonging. Kids in families that share regular, home-cooked meals together:
• Perform better academically
• Have higher self-esteem
• Are more resilient
• Are at lower risk of substance abuse and
• Have a decreased risk of depression
• Are less likely to develop an eating disorder
• Are less likely to be obese
Make the drive-through a thing of the past
We’re not suggesting that you should forever ban fast food from your family’s diet. However, if the evening meal usually comes wrapped in paper or contained in Styrofoam, it’s time to rethink things.
It can be fun!
First, tackle the age-old question of “What’s for dinner?” by creating a menu. You can do a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly menu – whatever works best for you and your family. Consider having theme nights, like “Taco Tuesday” or “Vegetarian Night.” Build in nights to use up leftovers and “Anything Goes” nights to allow for creativity and spur-of-the-moment cravings. You’ll be surprised at how much easier life is when the dinner dilemma has already been solved!
If your kids are old enough, involve them in meal preparation. Teach them how to use a measuring cup, have them fetch ingredients from the fridge, ask them to help you clean up, tailor tasks to their ages and interests and change things up from time-to-time. Here’s a bonus: Children who participate in meal preparation are more likely to eat the food they helped prepare. If you’ve got a picky eater, that can really make a difference.
Consider devoting a Sunday afternoon to preparing the next week’s meals. Websites like Pinterest are full of ideas and recipes that can be prepared in a few hours, popped into the freezer and tossed into the slow cooker before work. Coming home to the aroma of dinner ready to be eaten is next to heaven!
And, by the way, eating at home is cheaper than eating out all the time. So, when the schedule gets full and life gets crazy this fall, make the time for dinner with the family. Your family will feel more connected, more satisfied and happier.
Bethany Borders is a registered, licensed dietitian and certified diabetes educator with the Lexington Clinic. She works extensively with patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, as well as patients seeking nutritional guidance and support in their health journey. For more information about Lexington Clinic’s dietitian services, please call (859) 258-4032 or toll free at (877) 232-3533.