Making time for family dinner is difficult. With work schedules, after-school soccer practice, music lessons, and anything else that may arise, you might feel lucky to have time for any kind of dinner at all. But having family dinner together, even just one or two nights per week, is important. Some families are realizing the importance of the whole family dining at one time: according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 59% of families reported eating together five or more nights each week, an increase of 12% from 1998.
According to a recent Health.com article, eating together might help kids eat more healthy foods—mainly fruits and vegetable—and encourage them to avoid junk food and soda. According to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, the family dinner table allows whomever is cooking and serving to control the nutritional value and portion size. This differs from a restaurant setting, where kids can easily order unhealthy entrees—including chicken strips, French fries, and greasy hamburgers—and where portions are up to 50% larger than the average home-cooked meal. The intimate, personal atmosphere of the family table encourages children to eat their meal, not eat too much, and learn to eat a variety of foods.
Other studies report that eating together can have beneficial effects beyond nutritional habits. Some research supports that children who eat with their parents are less likely to suffer from mental health problems and eating disorders, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and more likely to perform better in school.
As you think about making time for family dinner, it’s important to remember that, although the act of eating together is important, eating healthfully as a family doesn’t need to require a lot of time in the kitchen. Here’s an easy recipe to get you started:
Easy Enchilada Casserole
8 flour tortillas, cut into one-inch strips
2 cans black beans, drained and mashed
1 16-oz. jar of your favorite salsa
1 8-oz. package shredded cheddar cheese
1 large tomato, chopped
salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9”x13” baking pan. Pour 1/4 of the salsa into the baking pan and spread evenly across with a spoon.
Arrange enough tortilla strips on top of the salsa to cover the pan. Top with 1/3 of the bean mixture, seasonings to taste, 1/4 of the cheese, and more salsa. Repeat this layering pattern two more times.
Arrange remaining tortilla strips, cheese, and chopped tomato on top of the casserole.
Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the casserole is heated thoroughly.