May 2010: A New Source for Simple Dinner Ideas

The great weather is here!  If you are like me, you might be trying to maximize your outdoor time in these months to come;  seize those outdoor moments while we have them!  That often means walking in the door with kids from a bike ride or time at the park to find that it is dinner time, everyone is hungry, and food needs to be on the table fast.  So how do you prepare for this inevitability without turning to a menu of boxed macaroni and cheese or whatever- processed-food-you-can-prepare-in-five-minutes?

The secret is a little planning and some inspiration that delicious yet simple homemade dinners are within reach.   Earlier this year, I started following a blog created by a local mom of  three kids (under 4!) which talks about her adventures at the grocery store and follows her journey through making simple yet fresh and healthy meals for her family.  Simple Dinners for Less was started by Elizabeth Thomas in October of 2009, and she has since then posted over 30 entries describing dishes ranging from Italian Wedding Soup to Salmon with Honey Mustard Glaze.  In her posts, she shares tips about what items are on sale and how to use these ingredients in great healthy dishes that kids (and husbands!) will love.

Since Elizabeth is also a friend and a Nurture volunteer extraordinaire, she has also agreed to share some of her favorite posts and healthiest recipes on our very own Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange website!  So we are launching a new section on the HKIE website homepage where you can find posts from Elizabeth on an on-going basis.  To get started, we’ve posted five recipes that are all easy, kid tested and are guaranteed to be a hit in at your house.  Check out these inspirational ideas!

·         Slow Cooker Lasagna. Lasagna in a slow cooker?  Yes indeed!  Don’t you love that feeling when you know you can walk in the door and your house smells great

·         Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Tequila Lime Chicken. As Elizabeth says, “It is one of those salads you make on Sunday and spend the rest of the week with your fork in the bowl!”

·         Zucchini Black Bean Burgers with Corn, Tomato and Mango Salsa. These veggie burgers were not only kid-tested at Elizabeth’s home, but were also given the thumbs-up by over 400 kids at Dawes Elementary School in Evanston, where Elizabeth taught a series of cooking classes.  As you read through this recipe, remember that kids as young as kindergarten age were able to do all the prepping of the food (from grating the zucchini to smashing the beans).  What they prepare themselves, they eat with gusto!

·         Rick Bayless’ Baked Fish with Roasted Salsa and Potatoes. Elizabeth took the kid friendly (read: mild) tilapia and put it in the oven with salsa for 10-15 minutes…so easy!

·         Spaghetti Squash with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Feta and Pine Nuts. What a nice break from pasta!  You could roast the squash in the morning and do the rest of the preparation (adding the dressing, cheese and nuts) when you walk in the door… and eat 5 minutes later!

Complete posts (with recipes can be found at:  Click on the title of the dinner for all the details.

Why Eating Dinner Together as a Family is Important

So we’ve address the “how”, but what about the “why”?  Here are four top reasons to share time together over dinner, with data to support them:

1.      Increased Communication. A “Family Dinner Experiment” conducted by Oprah Winfrey in 1993 challenged five families to eat dinner together every night for a month for at least a half an hour. At first the families found it difficult but by the end of the study they wanted to continue eating dinner together. The biggest surprise for the parents was “how much their children treasured the dependable time with their parents at the table.”

2.      Superior Academic Performance. A 1994 survey by Louis Harris and Associates had 2000 seniors take an academic test and answer a list of personal questions. Researchers found that “Students who regularly ate dinner with their families 4 or more times a week scored better than those who ate family dinners 3 or fewer times a week. These results crossed racial lines and were a greater indicator than whether the child was in a one or two-parent family.” Elementary students who ate regular family dinners also scored better than their peers who didn’t. Studies also found that preschoolers whose families ate together had better language skills because mealtime served as an opportunity for them to hear more spoken language and a chance to process adult conversations.

3.      Better Adjusted. A Harvard study, of 65 children over 8 years, found that family dinners were the activity that most fostered healthy child development. Another study by Drs. Bowden and Zeisz found that “the teens who were best adjusted ate a meal with an adult in their family an average of 5.4 days a week, compared to 3.3 days for teens who didn’t show good adjustment.” The well-adjusted teens were “less likely to do drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships.” Dr. Bowden said, “that mealtimes were a sort of ‘marker’ for other positive family attributes and seemed to play an important role in helping teens cope well with the stresses of adolescence.” Having dinner as a family provides stability and communication that is important for children, even in families where problems exist.

4.      Improved Nutrition. Researchers have found that when families eat dinner together that they “consume more vegetables, fruit and juice, and less soda.” Children who eat dinner as a family eat less fatty foods and receive higher amounts of fiber, minerals, and vitamins essential to the body. A Harvard study found “that children who ate family dinners more frequently had more healthy eating habits” overall, even when not at home.

Hopefully we’ve convinced you to gather around the family dinner table to enjoy!  To read more entries from Elizabeth Thomas’ blog, please visit blogger spot at:

More Blogs!
And now that we have “blogging fever”, don’t forget to also check out the second blog on the Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange site, Garden Tales.   This blog, which is authored by Elizabeth Matlin and others, takes you through the growing season with tips on how to get your family digging in the dirt and enjoying the amazing process of tending a home and/or community garden.  Recent posts include an indoor seed starting schedule, soil preparation tips, planting peas and onions, and growing asparagus!  Check it out at:

Have a great month of May, full of wonderful family dinners together!

Back copies of Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange are always available online.


This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.

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