Extension and Ag Research News


Prairie Fare: Keep the tradition of family meals

Family meals provide structure and can reduce overall family stress.

“This is grotesque!” my husband exclaimed.

I looked up from my magazine to see what had piqued his interest. I was watching a 1950s-era TV show and reading simultaneously.

In the show, the father of the family was returning from work in his double-breasted suit and fedora.

His smiling wife in a summery dress and heels walked away from the large bouquet of flowers she was arranging nearby. His neatly dressed children ran to the door to greet him as he hung his hat on the coat tree.

I’m not sure if my husband was reacting to the man’s suit, because he cannot tolerate double-breasted suits, or something else. Maybe he was envious of this bygone era where your wife and children ran to the door to greet you and have a three-course meal waiting.

Maybe that happens in some households. I could surprise my husband some time, perhaps.

The dinner table was set with gilt-edged china and cloth napkins. I think meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans were on the menu. Somehow the kitchen was immaculate. I’m sure all the assistants in the background of the Hollywood set took care of any messes.

The children sat at the dinner table with their hands folded in their laps. Of course, cell phones, computer tablets and other distractions did not exist. I noted one console TV in the house and one phone with a short coil.

Yes, this was Hollywood’s view of the perfect middle class family in the post-World War II era. It had an underlying laugh track, and I am not even sure what made some of the situations funny.

Although much has changed in the decades since this sitcom, I appreciated that they were eating together as a family. The benefits of eating together for families of all types remain alive and well. You do not need to dress up in fancy clothes for dinner, and you do not need china and cloth napkins.

Numerous research studies have pointed out the value of family meals in recent decades. Children who eat with their families tend to perform better in school, earning more grades of “A” or “B” than their peers. They learn to communicate with their family members, perhaps even learning some negotiation skills with their siblings at the dinner table.

Family meals provide structure and can reduce overall family stress, according to some researchers. Children who eat regularly with their families are less likely to have mental health issues and eating disorders. Family meals can be a fun time to share the day’s events and plan for the future.

Families who eat together tend to eat more nutritiously. These families eat more vegetables, fruits and calcium-rich foods and less fried and highly sweetened foods and beverages.

Family meals can occur at any time of the day and in any place, from restaurants to cars to parks. You do not need to dress up for dinner. Most of the time, you can save money by preparing food and dining at home. 

Learning how to prepare family recipes is fun and connects families to other generations. You can explore recipes from around the world and learn new culinary techniques, especially with the technology we have at our fingertips. 

Explore nutrition this summer. Check out our online and face-to-face Nourish options for adults and our cooking schools for children offered in many NDSU Extension locations around the state. Our Nourish program registration is open. You can learn about nourishing your bones, joints and skin in the comfort of your home. Register for the free seven-lesson online class at www.ag.ndsu.edu/nourish or check if your county NDSU Extension office is providing the classes.

We also have many online resources to support family meals and cooking as a family. See the “Food Preparation” section of the NDSU Extension website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and go to “Family Meals” or “Cooking on a Budget.” Check out the free monthly Family Table e-newsletter subscription at the website.

Let’s plan a simple menu. Green beans are in season, and this recipe is quite similar to what would have been a menu mainstay in the 1950s and beyond. This delicious recipe is inspired by French cuisine and is ready in about 15 minutes. Enjoy with grilled or roasted chicken, pork, beef or your favorite protein, baked potatoes, and fresh strawberries and melon for dessert.

Green Beans Almondine

1 pound fresh green beans
1 ½ ounces toasted, slivered almonds
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 to 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced (or 2 teaspoons minced garlic)
Pepper and salt as desired
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if desired

Rinse green beans thoroughly, remove ends and cut as desired. In a microwave-safe dish with a small amount of water, microwave (or steam) the green beans for about eight minutes until tender yet slightly crisp.  Melt butter in a pan, add garlic then cooked green beans. Continue cooking until heated through. Add toasted almonds and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (if desired) right before serving.

Makes four servings. Without added salt, each serving has 150 calories, 12 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 55 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – June 20, 2024

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Elizabeth Cronin, 701-231-7006, elizabeth.cronin@ndsu.edu


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