Tips for healthy and successful dinners provides great advice on healthy food planning and successful dinner ideas for families.

In New Zealand we typically have our main meal at the end of the day, so this is when we will typically serve a meat based option and vegetables. This meal therefore becomes an important source of iron, zinc and vitamins.

6 Tips for Healthy, Successful Family Dinners

Plan your meals in advance.

As the hardest part is often deciding what to prepare at this time it can be very beneficial to set some time aside each week to roughly plan out the weekly menu.

This will also help with shopping as you will know exactly what you need to buy. The less time you have to spend going backwards and forwards to the supermarket has to be a bonus and generally this way you will also save money as you will buy only what you need.

1. Timing

If you have young children it is best to feed them before they get too tired or hungry. Once they get too tired or hungry it becomes even harder to encourage them to eat. This may mean that you either have to eat earlier as a family or you need to feed them first.

2. Eat together

Research shows that the more you eat together as a family there is an increased likelihood that your children will eat a better range of vegetables. Families who eat together also tend to have a much healthier eating pattern overall. Eating together is a great way to foster good conversation and catch up with news of the day.

If you have young children who need to eat early or if your children are older and you are all heading in different directions in the evening try to set a goal of eating together at least once a week.

3. Do not offer alternatives

If you have a fussy eater do not offer an alternative choice if they have not eaten what is on offer. By the age of one, children should be able to eat what the rest of the family is eating. The more you replace the uneaten evening meal with a favourite choice, the more difficult it becomes to tempt them with different choices. For more information on fussy eaters see Fiona Boyle’s column – Fussy eaters.

4. Balance

As with any meal it is important to aim for a balance of protein and carbohydrate as this will ensure long lasting satisfaction after the meal.

Protein options include meat, fish, chicken, egg, cheese, dried beans and lentils (such as haricot beans, cannelini beans, chick peas or lentils).

Carbohydrate choices include – potatoes, kumara, pasta, rice, cous cous, and bread options such as wraps, pita pockets or any other bread.

Along with the protein and carbohydrate there should be lots of other vegetables on the plate.

5. Serving sizes

A standard serve of meat is approximately the size of the palm of your hand or another easy guide for adults and teenagers is to consider that around ¼ of the plate could have a meat type option on it. For younger children a standard serve of meat is based on the size of the palm of their hand. Therefore as children grow their serving size will increase as their hand gets bigger.

The carbohydrate serve should be about the size of the fist of the hand or for adults and older children around ¼ of the plate. Growing active teenagers may need slightly more to help satisfy their appetite. Serving amounts will get larger as children get older if serves are based on the fist of their hand.

There should be around three serves of vegetables included at this meal – a serve is again based on the palm of the hand, so a child’s serve will naturally be much smaller than an adults.

Sometimes if we put too much on a young child’s plate it can put them off or it may be difficult to have a realistic expectation about how much they should eat. So make sure your serving sizes are realistic and appropriate based on the size of their hand!

6. Involve your children

Encourage them to help in the preparation of the dinner – if it is realistic. There are lots of ways to get children to help with the evening meal ranging from the very simple tasks to the more difficult. They can wash or scrub vegetables, count out vegetables, toss salads, cut up vegetables, measure things out, help set the table and pour drinks. The more children are involved from a young age, the more kitchen skills they learn along the way.

Visit Quick Easy Mid Week Meals and Quick Easy Meals for great recipe ideas.

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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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