The Extinction of Family Dinner and Why It's Vital

Family Dinner

For many families in America sharing a family meal has become a lost art. Our hectic schedules revolving around school, work, and after-school activities, make it challenging and sometimes unfeasible to sit down for a family meal. But it is often overlooked how critical this part of the day. The family dinner is a place for conversation, a time to reconnect, share stories, relax, recharge, laugh, and catch up on the day.  It develops a close sense of family and deeper connections. As food writer Michael Pollen puts it, the family meal is "...where we teach our children the manners they need to get along in society. We teach them how to share. To take turns. To argue without fighting and insulting other people. They learn the art of adult conversation. The family meal is the nursery of democracy." (Pollan, 2013).

Researchers have confirmed that sharing a family meal is good for the health of all family members but also has a significant effect on a child's emotional, behavioral and physical development. Evidence suggests that children who take part in family meals are 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, 12% less likely to be overweight, and 35% less likely to develop an eating disorder (Cook & Dunifon, 2012). Moreover, regular family meals result in less delinquency such as substance abuse and teen pregnancy, greater academic achievement, improved psychological well-being, and positive family interactions. Other studies indicate that dinner conversation boost vocabulary and stories told around the table help to build resilience (Fishel,n.d).
 

What are the long-term health impacts of regular family meals for kids? 
 

A family meal can have substantial impacts on long-term health not only for the child but also for all members of the family. Home cooked meals are generally healthier than restaurant meals. Cooking allows you to control what goes in your food, the amount of salt, sugar, and fat used, and the quality of ingredients used. For example, it probably is no surprise that restaurants load on the butter and use copious amounts of salt, when you cook at home, more than likely using considerably less of these ingredients. Cooking meals at home also allows you to choose locally or organically grown produce when possible. This in turn means, what you cook at home is more likely to be nutrient dense and lower in sodium and unhealthy fats. These slight changes can have profound long-term health impacts.
 
Finally, cooking with your child encourages exposure to new foods they normally may not be inclined to try. It teaches children to have connection to their food and develop healthy long-term eating habits. To create a mindful eating practice, I encourage parents to talk to their kids about how certain vegetables grow or where ingredients come from, utilize all senses by discussing the way certain ingredients look, taste, and feel, and lastly spend time with a local farmer. When parents cook with their children and place an emphasis on being mindful it is teaching a skill your child can use for the rest of their lives.
 

Goals for families to work towards when it comes to mealtime :

  • Eat together when you can: Make eating together as a family a priority. It may not be possible every day, but do it when you can. Families that share at least 3 meals per week have children who eathealthier, are at healthier weights and are less likely to have disordered eating than families who eat together less often (Hammons & Fiese, 2011).
  • Involve Your Children In The Kitchen: May it be tearing lettuce or stirring a sauce, make cooking an activity that involves the whole family. Children are more likely to feel a connection to the food they help prepare and in turn will be more apt to try it.
  • Expose children to a variety of nutritious food: Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, grains, and healthy fats. A study in the American Journal of clinical nutrition showed that offering 3 different types of fruits and vegetables instead of one type increased a child's consumption.
  • Be a great role-model: Children want to mimic their parents so eat the food you want your children to eat. Eat in front of them and with them.
  • Have Fun: Make mealtimes pleasant, relaxed, and fun. Engage your child in conversation and keep the energy light and positive.

  • Meal Plan: Spend one or two nights a week prepping and planning meals for the week. I encourage parents to have some items already made that can simply be reheated when you don't have the time during a hectic weekday to cook a full meal. Steam green beans, broccoli, sauté mushrooms, and make grains ahead of time too take the pressure and stress off cooking, leaving more time to spend with your children.

  • Make It An Electronic Free Zone: Discourage use of TV, iPad's, or other electronic devices while eating. Encourage children to be present and positive about the meal.

  • Embrace Cooking: It takes an equal amount of time, possibly longer, to go to the restaurant, order, and wait for your food to arrive. Embrace cooking, celebrate the important role it plays for the health of your family, and use it as an opportunity to spend quality time with your family.

My Experience With Family Meals

Growing up family dinners were priority. It was very rare if we didn't sit down together. We would wait until my dad got home from work and sit down together as a family and eat a home cooked meal prepared by my mother or grandfather. This lasted throughout my high school years. Everyone ate the same thing. There were seldom "child-friendly” meals like chicken nuggets or mac-and-cheese. But for the most part we were happy with what was served.One thing about my mother was she was not a short order cook. We were encouraged to try everything and if we didn't eat...oh well, we would wait until the next day. At the table we would talk about the day, school, and whatever else was going on. We never ate in front of the TV, the phone was never answered, and we were encouraged to sit at the table until everyone else finished. I specifically remember having to ask to be excused from the table if I wanted to get up early.

I greatly appreciate having spent that quality time with my family. It improved my social skills, taught me how to be well mannered and polite, developed my palette, created a positive relationship with food, and drove my interest in food and cooking. The family meal is something I truly believe in. The "extinction” of the family dinner has really sparked my interest in this nutrition and is something I routinely work on with clients. I've heard from numerous families who have lost this art. Through a simple process of education, adaptation, and cooking lessons, I find ways to make family dinners fit into your routine.  If you are interested in working with me, please do not hesitate to contact me! 

 

References: 

Cook, E. & Dunifon, R. (2012 ). Parenting In Context. Family Meals Really Make a Difference? Cornell University. College of Human Ecology. Department of Policy Analysis and Management. Retrieved from:http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/upload/Family-Mealtimes-2.pdf

Fishel, Anne. (n.d). FAQ. Retrieved June 18, 2015, fromhttp://thefamilydinnerproject.org/resources/faq/

Hammons, A. J., & Fiese, B. H. (2011). Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? Pediatrics,127(6), e1565-e1574. http://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2010-1440

Pollan, M. (2013, May 24). Michael Pollan: Why the family meal is crucial to civilisation. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/may/25/michael-pollan-family-meal-civilisation/print

Roe, L. S., Meengs, J. S., Birch, L. L., & Rolls, B. J. (2013). Serving a variety of vegetables and fruit as a snack increased intake in preschool children. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(3), 693-699. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.062901

Easiest Caribbean Shrimp Tacos

Caribbean Shrimp Tacos With Mango

I love, love fish tacos! A summer favorite, I usually make my fish tacos with grilled white fish and lots of lime juice. I'm switching it up and using shrimp in this recipe, which was inspired by my recent trip to St. John's in the USVI. On the island there is a tiny spice shop that sells authentic caribbean spice mixes, hot sauces, and teas. I picked up a colorful blend of "Black Voodou Grilling Spice". It includes paprika, white pepper, cayenne, garlic, onion, and thyme.  Shrimp definitely is the perfect companion for these spices and with Cinco de Mayo around the corner this is a winning recipe. 

Caribbean Shrimp Tacos with Mango

These tacos are the easiest! The hardest part is letting your shrimp marinate prior to cookingHowever, once you remove your marinated shrimp from the fridge, these tacos take less than 15 minutes to arrange. Perfect for a quick weeknight meal or summer dinner party. 

RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:

For the Shrimp:

  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • sea salt
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 8 corn tortillas ( Hard or soft shell) 

Garnish:

  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 1 ripe mango, sliced 
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced 
  • fresh cilantro ( use liberally) 
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt ( optional) 

DIRECTIONS: 

1. Combine all spices, olive oil, honey, and lime juice in tupperware or large Ziploc bag. Add shrimp; shake to coat. Marinate shrimp in mixture for at least 30 minutes or longer. Refrigerate shrimp while marinating. 

2. Remove shrimp from bag. Heat a large grill pan or cast iron pan over medium heat. Coat pan with a touch of olive oil. Once pan is hot, add shrimp and cook 2 minutes on each side until done.

3. Place 2-3 shrimp in each taco shell. Divide diced avocado, sliced mango, and red onion in each taco shell.  Add a dollop of greek yogurt and garnish with fresh cilantro. 

 

 

Confused About Fats? Good Fats Vs. Bad Fats

Butter_Good Fats and Bad Fats

When it comes to macronutrients, fat gets a bad rap. While some of this may be justified, not all fats are created equal. In general lipids are essential for health and a major source of fuel for human metabolism. They are needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, E, K, and D, needed to build cell membranes, protect our organs, and required for many other physiological functions. Evolutionarily speaking, we have consumed a high-fat diet for the past two million years, and only since the advent of agriculture did we switch to consuming more carbohydrates than fat and increased the wrong types of fat in our diet. It is important to recognize that there are “good” fats and then there are “bad” fats. Consuming too much of the wrong kinds of fat can be associated with health problems, whereas, consuming the right fats has many health-promoting benefits.

The bottom line is it's not how much fat you eat that raises blood cholesterol levels and increases risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, it is the type of fat you eat. Good fats include monounsaturated fats, some saturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad fats include commercially produced trans-fat.

Below is my recommendation for fats to include in your diet and fats to avoid:

 

Approved Fats and Oils:

  • Saturated fats:  Although there has been much debate over saturated fats, I believe that some sources of saturated fats are completely fine to incorporate into your diet. These come from organic butter from grass-fed cows, organic virgin coconut oil, grass-fed beef, and whole-milk dairy products (if you can find raw milk -even better). Saturated fats from processed fatty meats such as bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats, salami, and sausages should be avoided. Additionally,  steer clear of saturated fats from baked goods!

 

  • Monounsaturated fats:  Research has consistently shown that eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. These include olive oil, avocados, nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans)

 

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fats and are considered essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them so you must get them from food. Good sources of omega-3 includes fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, organic eggs, flax seed, grass-fed meats, walnuts

 

  • Omega-6 fatty acids:  It is important to note that ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is terribly important to health. Unfortuantly, we are consuming way more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today's Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects. With that said, I would limit high consumption of omega-6 fats but if you do incorporate these fats into your diet, good sources include include sesame oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts, seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds), evening primrose oil, and organic tofu.

 

  • EPA/DHA: These fatty acids are omega-3 fats. They reduce inflammation, dilate blood vessels, and decrease platelet aggregation. Increasing consumption can be beneficial for high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and arthritis. Additionally, DHA plays a very important role during fetal development, early infancy and old age. Pregnant women as well as elderly should ensure they are getting adequate amounts of DHA for fetal brain development and improved cognitive function. EPA/DHA are only found in a few foods and fatty fish from cold waters, such as salmon and mackerel, are the richest dietary source. I recommend fish oil supplement (just make sure they contain these compounds) or including marine algae in your diet. My favorite supplement is Carlson's Cod Liver oil. 

 

Fats/Oils to avoid:

  • Trans-fat: Found in margarine, pastries, baked goods, fast-food french fries, fried foods, vegetable shortening, and processed snack foods. This is the worst type of fat known. It is a byproduct of a process called partial hydrogenation, in which chemists convert carbon-carbon double bonds into carbon-carbon single bonds making oils to solids. This process is done to produce desirable food texture ad reduce spoilage. (McGuire and Beerman,2013). According to Harvard Health, “Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” (The Truth About Fats, 2015)

 

  • High amounts of Polyunsaturated fat: From corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed, safflower, soybean. High amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and should be limited. Excess consumption of polyunsaturated fats is associated with increasing rates of cancer, heart disease and weight gain; excess use of commercial vegetable oils interferes with the production of prostaglandins leading to an array of complaints ranging from autoimmune disease to PMS (Trocki, 2015). Additionally, if not certified organic these oils more than likely contain GMO ingredients. My advice is to stay clear!

 

 

References:

McGuire, M., & Beerman, K. A. (2013). Nutritional sciences: From fundamentals to food.Belmont, CA: Yolanda Cossio.

The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. (2015). Retrieved March 19, 2015, fromhttp://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good

Trocki, Tori ( 2015).  Supplemental Information Regarding Fats.  Personal collection of Trocki T, Maryland University of Integrative Health. Laurel, MD. 

Zimmermann, M., & Burgerstein, L. (2001). Burgerstein's handbook of nutrition micronutrients in the prevention and therapy of disease. Stuttgart: Thieme.