Q. My family makes it a priority to eat meals together most nights (as activities allow). I try to cook healthy meals for my family, but it is hard to find a meal that everyone likes. Each person has certain foods they don’t like. For example, one loves onions, while the next hates them. Do you have any suggestions for how to make healthy food that everyone will love?
A. The first thing you should do is to base your meals on MyPlate — an easy visual to gauge the healthiness of your meal — with half your plate being fruits and vegetables, a quarter as lean protein, a quarter as whole grain, plus a serving of low-fat dairy.
September is National Family Meals month, a time to recognize the importance of eating together as a family. Benefits to children are seen when family meals happen between five and seven times per week. Those benefits include improved academic performance and self-esteem, lower rates of obesity and eating disorders and lower incidences of substance abuse and teen pregnancy. An easy way to gather everyone to the table is with a fun food station. This could happen at the evening meal or even breakfast; the important thing is that everyone is present and eats together.
Food stations are a great way to let each person decide on their add-ins. Have your family brainstorm ideas on toppings they like, remembering to include fruits and vegetables within the choices. Here are some of my favorite food stations.
• Oatmeal Bar – Topping ideas: fresh fruits, thawed frozen fruit, nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, maple syrup, flax seed, chia seed, granola and vanilla yogurt.
• Spud Bar – Utilize the frozen Steam n’ Mash potatoes or pre-bake some baked potatoes and have the following toppings available: broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, salsa, green onions, black beans, cheese, rotisserie chicken or diced ham.
• Nacho – Top whole grain corn chips with chicken, black beans, salsa, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, pre-cooked brown rice (find it in the freezer section), crumbled cooked lean hamburger, corn, peppers, plain Greek yogurt, cheese. Bake it in the oven for 5-10 minutes until cheese melts.
• Pasta – Precook whole grain pasta and top with a variety of sauces: low-fat Alfredo, pesto, marinara, steamed vegetables, cooked shrimp, cooked chicken, reduced-fat meatballs, fresh basil, cheeses, fresh baked bread.
• Pizza – Whole grain pita crusts or whole grain tortillas with toppings: cheeses, pesto sauce, pizza sauce, cooked broccoli, diced peppers, canned pineapple tidbits, olives, mushrooms, diced ham, turkey pepperoni, cooked chicken, fresh herbs.