October isn’t only about the leaves turning colors, Halloween, and football – it is also National Eat Better, Eat Together Month! Studies have found that children from families that eat meals together on a regular basis are more likely to have greater intake of fruits, vegetables and micronutrients, maintain a healthy weight, have less behavior problems, and have healthier eating habits in the long-term.

Here are some tips to encourage eating together with family:

  • Involve children in meal preparation
  • Limit distractions at mealtimes (such as phones, televisions, and tablets)
  • Establish routine
  • Keep meals simple, fun, and balanced So what should a balanced meal at home look like?

Ideally, meals should consist of at least one item from each of the main food groups – grains, vegetables, fruits, protein and dairy. Limiting foods that are highly processed, high in sugar or fried is also in you and your family’s best interest.

When it comes to grains, whole-grain options are higher in fiber and nutrients and should make up more than 50% of overall grain intake. This could come in forms of whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, or quinoa.

If your family struggles to enjoy fruits and vegetables, try diversifying the methods of preparing them. Vegetables may be more desirable when they are roasted, grilled, or added to casseroles or pasta dishes. If you notice that fresh produce doesn’t get used up fast enough in your home, don’t be afraid to stock up on frozen fruits and veggies – they are just as nutritious! Produce that is currently in-season and may be cheaper for purchasing fresh include apples, cranberries, peppers, potatoes, and squash.

Protein is also something that should be varied. Beef, chicken, turkey, and pork are common mealtime staples. Don’t be afraid to try some non-meat protein in meals as well, such as beans, lentils, eggs, quinoa, or even tofu or seitan. Seafood is another great option. Protein needs to be spaced out throughout the day for our bodies to utilize it efficiently, so ensure that a good protein source is included at each meal. Breakfast is often a meal that people struggle to consume enough protein at – if you can relate, try omelets, egg bake, yogurt parfaits, or even adding protein powder to oatmeal in the morning.

Dairy is the final group that should be present in a well-rounded meal. Cheese and milk are classic choices, but try adding other dairy products into meals as well. Some ideas include adding Greek yogurt to pasta sauce (this adds protein to the meal and makes the sauce super creamy), using cottage cheese as a salad dressing, or trying my family’s favorite recipe of all time, Greek Yogurt Chicken.

Life is always busy, but I challenge you to make a goal of sitting down with your family at least three nights a week and enjoying a healthy meal together. Though evidence shows the physical health benefits are outstanding, the joy and happiness this habit brings to your home may be just as important for you and your family!