The pluses of sharing a family meal

A family meal is when the people you live with come together to eat and talk and that includes the young people in the circle of relatives.

Sharing meals builds stronger, healthier families in many ways, according to the Healthy and Homemade 2013 Nutrition and Fitness Calendar.

Children who eat with their families do better in school. They learn how to be polite and get along with others. Youngsters who eat with their parents are less likely to smoke, drink, take drugs, get into fights, become sexually active or commit suicide. The family meal habit should begin when children are young and continue through their teen years, according to the calendar.

It is told that children who eat with their families eat better, learn better eating habits and are less likely to develop eating disorders. Eating at family meals can help children reach a healthy weight.

Sometimes conversation falls flat right after the question of “how was school today” is asked and the one-word answer of “OK” is murmured. The Nutrition and Fitness Calendar gives suggestions on conversation starters.

For tots you might ask what they would like for dinner the next night and what foods would they like to help cook. Another question is “If we could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would like and why?” and “What story books do you like to read?” And if it is a book on hand, suggest reading it together after the dishes are washed.

For school kids, ask what job really interests them and if they know anyone with that job. Another question is “What would you like to do if you were elected president?” and” If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

Adolescent questions could be about sharing the most interesting new movie or DVD or TV show seen recently; describing a family tradition they really like and why; and naming several of the most important people alive and why. If it is a sports figure, share some information on him or her.

Now that the idea to keep the family together at meal times is ingrained and ideas on a few topics to discuss to keep the conservation flowing are set, the idea of food that is nutritious and appealing to the child or teen comes next.

Nothing sends them away from the table to a jar of peanut butter in the fridge faster than something they absolutely do not like.

This doesn’t mean that the food should be avoided if they merely express a dislike without really tasting it. The idea is to have a child take at least two bites of a food each time it is served. After a time, they could develop a taste for it or know that it is healthy and try a few more bites.

Know the “My Plate” breakdown of a half plate of vegetables, about one-fourth plate of protein and a little more than a fourth of grains, a small portion of fruit and an outside portion of dairy. You can go to to learn about this.

  • ????

Here is a recipe for getting the fiber from a potato into the tummies of the children. It is from Hungry Girl newsletter and is 186 calories for two skins, with 3.5 grams fat, 3.5 grams fiber, 10.5 grams protein and 29 grams of carbs.

Italian Potato Skins

Two 10-ounce baking potatoes

2 strings light string cheese

1/3 cup low-fat marinara sauce

Seasonings of garlic powder and oregano if it appeals to the child

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork. On a microwave-safe plate, microwave potatoes for 4 minutes, flip potatoes and microwave for 3 1/2 minutes more or until soft. Once cool enough to handle, cut potatoes in half lengthwise.

Use a spoon to gently scoop out the potato flesh, cutting to about 1/4-inch inside the skin. Reserve the potato for another use. (The instructions say to discard it, but I am too thrifty for that.)

Place potato skins on the baking sheet. Bake until crispy, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove sheet from oven but leave potatoes on the sheet. Break string cheese into thirds and place in a blender or food processor. Blend at high speed until shredded. Or pull into shreds and roughly chop. Evenly distribute sauce among potato skins. Sprinkle with a bit of garlic power and other spices, if desired. Sprinkle with shredded string cheese. Bake until cheese has melted, about 5 minutes. Makes two servings. But for children, they might only desire one skin.

  • ????

An open-face grilled cheese sandwich should be appealing to a child. It is comprised of whole wheat bread, cheese, spinach leaves and slices of red, yellow or green bell pepper.

Supreme Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

1 cup sliced peppers, either red, yellow or green, 1 medium pepper

4 slices whole wheat bread

2 tablespoons light mayonnaise or salad dressing

1 cup rinsed spinach leaves

4 slices (3/4-ounce each) mozzarella cheese

Non-stick spray

Slice peppers very thin. Lay out four slices of bread and spread with mayo or salad dressing. Slightly sprinkle with with garlic power. Add in layers, the spinach leaves, peppers and a slice of cheese. Heat a skillet to medium low. Spray with non-stick spray. Lay sandwiches in pan. Cover with plate, lid or aluminum foil. Heat sandwiches until cheese melts, about 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. Makes four open-face sandwiches. Be sure to serve warm.

  • ????

I noticed on “Biggest Loser” that Bingo, one of the teens on a weight loss campaign, seemed to enjoy a meatloaf made with pureed vegetables added.

He did not eat vegetables, and his mother was trying to get them reintroduced into his diet. This meatloaf doesn’t try to hide them in a puree but contains grated carrots as an added veggie.

Mouth Watering Meatloaf

1 pound 90-percent lean ground beef

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup grated carrots, about two

1/2 cup dry quick oats

1/4 cup nonfat milk

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup ketchup, divided (1/4 cup to be added to the meatloaf and 1/4 cup to make a sauce by adding 2 tablespoons brown sugar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together ground beef, onion, grated carrots, oats, milk, egg, pepper, salt and 1/4 cup ketchup. If needed add about 2 tablespoons water, too. Form the mixture into a loaf and place on a broiler pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Stir the remaining 1/4 cup ketchup and sugar in a small bowl. Remove meatloaf from the oven and spread the sauce over the top and sides of meatloaf. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees.

Note: You can make a broiler pan by laying a wire cooking rack on top of a jellyroll roll pan or cake pan. Cover with aluminum foil. Poke holes in the foil so the meat juice can drain. This would be a less fattening way to cook the meatloaf.

Note: Ground turkey can be used in place of the ground beef. Cook turkey meatloaf to 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. Use a light hand in mixing the meat loaf as it will be tough if handled too much.

  • ????

Spaghetti is a favorite food of children. They love slurping it down, so keep the strands long when cooking it. This has spinach in the mix, something that made Popeye strong, so it might do the same for the children.

Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta

2 cups cherry tomatoes, about 10 ounces

1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

3 cups fresh spinach or 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

5 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse tomatoes under running water. Cut in half. Spread on greased baking pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder on tomatoes. Stir to coat. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Prepare the spinach and cook the spaghetti as tomatoes bake. Rinse fresh spinach in water, slice in strips. Or thaw, drain and pat dry the frozen spinach and set aside. Follow package directions to cook spaghetti. Drain. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, Italian seasonings, spinach and baked tomatoes to the spaghetti. Stir until heated through. Serve with Parmesan cheese. Makes four servings.

  • ????

Dessert always had to be a finishing touch to a meal to a child. This one is made so that there areonly 5 fat grams and 9 grams of sugar. It also is from the Healthy and Homemade Nutrition and Fitness Calendar as well as all the other recipes included on this page.

Banana Pudding


1 package, 0.8-ounce size, sugar-free instant vanilla pudding

2 cups cold nonfat milk

4 graham crackers, crumbled, about 3/4 cup crumbs

2 bananas, sliced

In a medium bowl, combine pudding mix and 2 cups milk. Beat until well blended, about 2 minutes, with a wire whisk, rotary beater or electric mixer at lowest speed. Let set for 5 minutes. Set out six bowls or glasses. Put 3 tablespoons pudding in the bottom of each. Sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs on the pudding in each cup. Layer one-fourth of the banana slices on crumbs. Repeat with layers of pudding, graham crackers and banana slices. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Serves six and is 80 calories.

Note: To make crumbs, put crackers in a sealable plastic bag and roll the side of a glass over them. A child could do this if a plastic glass were used so there is not danger of it being broken. And any pudding flavor can be used for this dessert. It can be made in small plastic containers with lids to take for lunches. Keep cold with ice packs.

(McCoy can be contacted at