LEE ANNE GRACE: Challenge issued to increase number of family dinners together

By Lee Anne Grace

Finding a time for family dinner when everyone is at home can be like working a Rubix cube. Many families, mine included, have schedules so overbooked that sitting down for a shared meal is challenging.
The erosion of family dinner time has led to negative consequences, including higher obesity rates. Studies show meals eaten away from home are higher in calories, fat, saturated fat and lower in calcium, iron and fiber than meals eaten at home. A direct correlation has been found to exist between the number of meals eaten away from home in any given week with the total number of calories consumed.
One of my secret weapons to resist the temptation of eating dinner away from home is keeping a well-stocked freezer. I mix and match what I have on hand so the meal is well-balanced, with the goal being one serving of lean protein, two servings of vegetables and a serving of whole grains.
I keep the following meat in my freezer for quick meals:
- Tyson precooked grilled chicken breast strips – a little pricey, but worth it. These can be used to top salads, in stir fries, in wraps, or eaten with a low-calorie dipping sauce.
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts.
- Assorted frozen fish – salmon, tilapia and cod. Frozen fish can be prepared on an indoor countertop (George Foreman) grill in about five minutes.
- I buy pork tenderloin when it’s on sale and have it sliced at the grocery store. I freeze in separate freezer bags the amount I would need for a meal.
- Ground turkey or lean ground beef.
I enjoy fresh produce, but nothing beats the convenience of having an assortment of frozen vegetables in the freezer. With many varieties available in steamable bags, having crisp, delicious veggies on the table in mere minutes is hassle-free. I also purchase the Green Giant Veggies for One, found in four packs in the freezer section.
Low-calorie frozen dinners are also an option to keep on hand for when there is literally no time to cook, but I try to supplement these with another serving of veggies to complete the meal. Sometimes I’ll make a really big salad for dinner. I use fresh spinach or lettuce as a base, then add fresh mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, bell pepper, green onions, diced pear or apple, mandarin oranges, raisins or craisins, a few almonds and a tablespoon of blue cheese crumbles. I top the salad with grilled fish or chicken. I keep a variety of Wish Bone Salad Spritzers on hand to use for dressing. Adding a whole grain on the side, such as a roll, crackers or pretzels, completes the meal.

Eating on the run
Keeping the kitchen stocked with healthy foods, not only helps with family meal time preparations, but also keeps me away from the temptation of eating foods that have the potential to trigger a binge. I still struggle with making healthy food choices day in and day out. Some days I do well, and other days I fail miserably.
When I absolutely can’t follow my plan and must eat on the run, I have several emergency drive through meals. These include grilled Southwest chicken salad at McDonalds, a 6-inch turkey sub at Subway, or a small chili over a side salad from Wendy’s.
I am issuing myself a challenge to increase the number of times our family eats dinner together each week. I hope you will join me in the challenge. In the end, not only will you have more control over what you are eating, but you’ll cherish the time spent sharing a meal together.

Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for three years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.