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When we cook at home, we can provide healthier meals. During this time of anxiety and uncertainty, cooking at home may be just what your family needs to calm their nerves, relax and reconnect as a family.

Most research suggests that both parents and children value sharing a meal together. It offers time to talk and listen to each other. The simple act of regular mealtimes can provide stability. Plus, it's a great time to model healthy eating habits.

For most parents serving their family healthy, nutritious meals is the goal, but you are in overload, out of time and out of ideas. These meals do not have to be fancy or labor intensive. Start by planning your meal. There is a solution to all this madness. These top 10 tips will help you enjoy preparing and dining at home.

• Make family meals a priority and agree upon a schedule. With us experiencing "social distancing" right now this is an easier option. Count me in!

• Try to have regular family meals two to three times a week. We don't live in a "Leave it to Beaver" society anymore, but it sure would be nice to gather the family around the dinner table more than once a month.

• If dinnertime doesn't work, have family breakfasts or snacks. Anytime together as a family, strengthens our bond, and eases nerves.

• Keep meals simple. You don't have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Use your small appliances such as slow cookers, instant pressure canners or air fryers to save time in the evening.

• Double recipes and freeze food for a second meal. Or quadruple the recipe and prepare meals for the week. This way everyone has a healthy hot meal to enjoy even if you can't eat as a family.

• Set aside 30 minutes on the weekend for meal planning. To start, grab a pencil and paper and list your favorite meals. It may help to talk to your family or thumb through a favorite cookbook. Some of the meals will be healthier than others, but for now, just write them all down.

• Make family meals fun and include children in food preparation. Preschoolers are hard at work on their fine motor skills, so this is a good time to give them slightly more detailed work, although they'll still need lots of help and supervision! Allow them to cut soft foods with a plastic knife, crack an egg, measure and level dry ingredients with a straight edge, set the table, fill the dishwasher soap compartment, and press the "Start" button.

• Discuss neutral or positive topics at the table. Create a list of conversation starters and let someone pick what it will be for that meal.

• Eliminate distractions such as TV and cellphones or other electronic devices. We can live without them for 30 minutes. This was a hard rule when my kids were teenagers. No electronic devices at the table.

• Eat slowly and enjoy your time as a family. It's rumored that it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to let your brain know it is full. Slowing down could not only strengthen the family bond, but help with portion control and weight loss.

For more information, contact the Garland County Extension office, 623-6841, or visit us at 236 Woodbine St. We're online at [email protected], on Facebook at @GarlandFCS, @garlandEGF, @GarlandCountyEHC or on the web at uaex.edu/Garland.

One of my favorite fast meals is made in the slow cooker on low for four to six hours or in the oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes. I am giving directions for the slow cooker since it is one of my favorite time savers. Serve over whole wheat noodles or whole grain rice, with Parmesan roasted broccoli and a nice salad. Chances are your family will love this and it will become one of your go-to meals.

Holy Moly It's Good Chicken

4 chicken breasts, butterflied into 8 sections or 1 package frozen chicken tenders, thawed.

1 packet dry Zesty Italian dressing.

1 (8-ounce) package Reduced Fat cream cheese, softened.

1-2 cans low sodium cream of chicken soup.

Spray liner of slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or use slow cooker liner. Place the chicken in the slow cooker and sprinkle each side with Italian dressing. Combine cream cheese and cream of chicken soup in a small bowl and microwave 1 minute until cream cheese is melted, stir to combine well, pour over chicken. Cook on low in the slow cooker for at four to six hours. Once cooked serve over pasta or rice. If you feel like the sauce is too thick, thin down with a little milk.

Master Gardener information

Master Gardener meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at the Elks Lodge. They're open to the public, and guests are welcome. For more information, call the Extension office at 623-6841 or email Alex Dykes at [email protected]

EHC information

Are you interested in joining an existing Extension Homemakers Club? EHC is the largest volunteer organization in the state. For information on EHC, call 623-6841 or email Alison Crane at [email protected] Follow Alison on Facebook @garlandEGF and @Garland FCS, and EHC on Facebook @GarlandCountyEHC.

4-H information

For information about Garland County 4-H Club membership or program benefits, see Carol Ann McAfee at the Garland County Cooperative Extension Service office at 236 Woodbine, call 501-623-6841, or email [email protected] More information is available at http://www.uaex.edu/garland.

Society on 03/23/2020

Print Headline: Cooking at home might be what families need right now

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