Home cooking: Healthy family meals

Monique Tello, MD, MPH

Contributing Editor

Family meals are beneficial for so many reasons. People who prepare meals at home tend to consume significantly more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar and fat. People who enjoy meals at home with others, sitting together and conversing, also have reduced stress and higher life satisfaction. The more frequently families with children have meals together, the more likely the children are to eat a high-quality diet, and the less likely to be overweight or obese. There are also other benefits: these children tend to have higher self-esteem and better academic performance, as well as lower risk of engaging in risky behaviors (like drug use) or developing an eating disorder.

Family meals without distraction

All those benefits go out the window if dinner is eaten in front of the television or other devices. This makes sense if we think about why the family meal has such powerful positive effects: it’s about closeness and connection. Sitting down to eat together is often the only time families can reconnect and communicate. Given our busy, technology-driven lives, the family meal is a rare (and critical) opportunity to unplug and check in. What’s even better is getting the kids involved in making dinner, which is also significantly associated with their eating a higher-quality diet.

One of my favorite family meals: Make-your-own soft tacos

The kids can get involved in preparing this simple and healthy meal, which is incredibly rich in protein and fiber, as well as calcium, iron, and potassium. Beans provide plenty of heart-healthy fiber, protein, and are associated with a lower risk of diabetes. Corn and masa (the tortilla flour made from corn) are considered whole grains and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Avocados and olives provide heart-healthy fats, and the veggies are risk in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. All these easy-to-find ingredients, plus healthy veggies, the option of dairy, and protein from the pumpkin seeds, make this nutritious and fun to prepare with the family — and everyone will love that they can build their own taco!

Make-Your-Own Soft Tacos

This recipe will serve six people if some of those people are young children. For hungry teens and adults, expect it to feed three or four.

Ingredients

  • 1 15-ounce can of unsalted black beans
  • 1 can corn niblets, unsalted
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 red bell pepper sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup of salsa (fresh or jarred)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), unsalted (optional)
  • 1/2 cup green olives (optional)
  • 8-12 corn tortillas (made without lard)

Instructions

  1. Dice the avocado and gently mix with the lemon juice.

  2. Heat the beans in the microwave or the stovetop; stir.

  3. Heat the tortillas (I wrap them in a clean towel and zap them in the microwave on high for 30 seconds).

  4. Set out all ingredients on the counter (or table) and let everyone put together their own healthy tacos.

Selected sources

Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Public Health Nutrition, June 2015.

Health and social determinants and outcomes of home cooking: A systematic review of observational studies. Appetite, April 1, 2017.

The relation between family meals and health of infants and toddlers: A review. Appetite, August 1, 2018.

Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Canadian Family Physician, February 2015.

A Review of Associations Between Family or Shared Meal Frequency and Dietary and Weight Status Outcomes Across the Lifespan. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, January 2014.

Involvement in Meal Preparation at Home Is Associated With Better Diet Quality Among Canadian Children. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, July-August 2014.

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