Make Family Meals Matter

(Family Features) For busy families, finding time to eat together isn’t always easy, but coming together around the dinner table regularly isn’t just about keeping hungry bellies full. Family meals nourish the spirit, brain and overall health.

Children who grow up sharing family meals are also more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior as adults, such as sharing, fairness and respect. Research has also shown that with each additional family meal shared during the week, adolescents are less likely to show symptoms of violence, depression and suicide; less likely to use or abuse drugs or run away; and less likely to engage in risky behavior or delinquent acts.

In addition, adults and children who eat at home more regularly are less likely to suffer from obesity, and increased family meals are associated with greater intake of fruits and vegetables.

If you struggle to make family meal time happen, try these tips from the experts at the Food Marketing Institute Foundation, creators of the National Family Meals Movement, which aims to help families reap the benefits of enjoying more meals together at home. Or you can find inspiration to make one extra family meal happen each week with recipes like these Meatballs from the family-focused cookbook “Family Table by Robert Irvine.”

Plan ahead. Prepare staples or extras of your favorite recipes that you can refrigerate or freeze to use when you’re rushed for time.

Mix and match. Challenge yourself to see how many different ways you can use a grocery item until it’s gone.

Embrace convenience. Grocery stores have many time-saving solutions, and frozen and canned produce can be quick additions to many recipes.

Incorporate the kids. Involve your children in shopping, meal planning and meal preparation whenever possible.

Make nutritional balance easy. Plan your family’s plates by making sure you are getting all the food groups over the course of the day.

By quieting the noise and being truly present with the people around us, simple tasks you might normally take for granted – like putting a good meal on the table – take on a deeper meaning,” Irvine writes in his book. “The meal ceases to be a time for physical nourishment and becomes something that feeds your family’s soul. It’s not possible to forge that kind of a connection if you’ve got one eye fixed on your smartphone at the dinner table.”

Look for more tips and meal planning resources at your favorite grocery store.


Recipe courtesy of “Family Table by Robert Irvine” on behalf of the Food Marketing Institute Foundation

Serves: 6

1 Spanish white onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups diced bread (such as baguette)


2 large eggs

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground veal

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

3 cups basic tomato sauce

In small saucepan over medium heat, sweat onion and garlic.

In large bowl, soak bread in water 1-2 minutes. Strain excess liquid.

In separate large bowl, add eggs, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese and onion-garlic mixture. Combine then add ground meat, soaked bread, extra-virgin olive oil, parsley and oregano. Mix thoroughly.

Divide mixture evenly to form 10-12 meatballs and use hands to roll into shape.

In large saute pan over high heat, brown meatballs in grapeseed oil on all sides.

Place browned meatballs in separate saucepot with basic tomato sauce. Bring to simmer and finish cooking, about 1 hour.

Photo courtesy of “Family Table by Robert Irvine”