This time of year most of my friends and I are constantly on the run, driving our kids to sports practices and games, music lessons, dance classes and numerous other activities. We all know the value of sitting down to a family dinner. Studies that show that kids who eat dinner frequently with their parents do better academically and are less likely to engage in at risk behaviors including drug and alcohol abuse.
But for many families, several times a week, we are flying through the drive-thru for snacks or meals as we rush off to yet another activity. So what are some practical approaches to this problem?
Be Flexible About When and What You Eat for Dinner
Laurie David’s wonderful book "The Family Dinner" is full of ideas of how to make a family dinner happen, even with today’s crazy schedules. David came up with the idea for the book one night when she realized that her two teenage daughters lingered at the kitchen table with her, still engaged in conversation, long after dessert was finished.
“I realized at the point that I must have done something right as a parent,” she wrote.
Some of David’s suggestions include making a simple meal, like soup and a salad; varying your meal times -- who says dinner can’t be late or early? -- and doing some preparation ahead of time with the easy-to-make recipes in the book. She emphasizes fresh, locally grown, organic, healthy ingredients.
In addition to featuring beautiful photos and illustrations and pages with large, easy-to-read type, the book has a sturdy, easy-to-wipe cover that will withstand the wear and tear of use over time. This is a great resoure to buy for yourself or give as a gift and you will find it helpful in making memorable but easy-to-execute dinners happen. You can find where to buy the book and get great, easy to make meal ideas on the book's website.
Make Better Choices When You Must Choose To Go Meals
Sometimes a family dinner at home is not going to happen and you have resigned yourself to the dreaded drive-thru routine and dining in the minivan. Now what? Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the “meat” in many of those fast food chicken nuggets comes out of the meat processor looking like pink soft-serve ice cream. Then it gets bleached to make it white. Now that I have your attention, here are some better choices.
Choose Food You Can Recognize
The Bellevue Chipotle restaurants at and in offers fast, to-go food. But the key difference between this place and , is you can recognize all the ingredients and you watch as they put your meal together in front of you. is also committed to using locally grown and organic ingredients whenever possible. And the calorie ranges are right on the menu board in big type. Best of all, they have some great, healthy kid meal options that include a drink for less than $5. Other options for "to-go" food you can still recognize include the many “grab and go” meal options at in Bellevue including salads, sandwiches and soups.
Discourage Teens From Using Beverages As Meal Replacements
It is tempting as you fly through after school to let your hungry and thirsty teen order a beverage. Or grab a smoothie together. But some of those beverages pack a ton of calories. A Starbucks grande Java Chip Frappuccino has 440 calories and 18 grams of fat. And a delicious 24-ounce smoothie from has 410 calories. Better to lug the water bottles and if they need to warm up, have some herbal tea or hot chocolate together made with non-fat milk. And encourage them to eat something – some apple with peanut butter or some turkey wrapped in a tortilla. Didn't pack a snack? Starbucks offers some great "protein packs" with fruit, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and hummus and pita. That will sustain them through the rest of the afternoon.
Choose Restaurants that Offer Lower Fat Options
You will find a number of low fat choices at Bellevue-area and they offer kids meals with side options including fruit or yogurt. My kids prefer over or other fast food. They recognize that they feel better an hour after eating a low-fat sandwich and a health side dish than after eating a burger and fries. Other area “to go” restaurants with lower fat options include and Qdoba.
Stock Snacks in Your Car or Purse So You Can Avoid The Drive-Thru
I have learned over the years to carry a wide variety of healthy snacks and beverages in my car including fruit and protein bars. I am never without some kind of snack in my purse as well. This way I often can avoid a trip to the drive- thru on the way home when I’ve picked my kids up from an afternoon activity and they are both hungry and crabby. Check out the Bellevue for a great selection of small "protein and snack" bars along with dried fruits, rice cakes and whole-grain crackers.
Invest in a small cooler to throw in the back of the car and you can have string cheese, juice boxes and yogurt on hand as well. Your kids will snack happily in the back as you fly past the fast-food places and you can get home to one of those "sit down" meals that made Laurie David so proud of herself as a parent.
Looking for family events this week?
Check out this week's Bellevue Patch Grab & Go Kids Planner, by Ruby Slipper Guide. You can also check out this week's deals at Frugal Family.