Make Meal Time Family Time!

I originally wrote this for IGA and you can read it here: and watch the related ABC Chicago TV interview here:

With the busy school year back in full swing, it can feel like there’s no time for anything! But the good news is, with a little planning, there is time to make balanced choices to get us through the day with the nutrient rich foods we need. We all want to help our families (and ourselves) stay healthy, eat well, and work towards instilling great habits that can last a lifetime. Eating meals together at home is a wonderful way to share stories about what happened during the day, but you can also stay connected through packing lunches and snacks for the school day and after school activities. I talked about grocery shopping inspiration on ABC 7 in Chicago while on location at Joe Caputo & Sons Fruit Market IGA in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Check out these easy but impactful ideas to help you gear up for school year success at mealtime—no matter where you eat!

Here are some simple ways to bring family meal time values and ideas to lunch, too:

1. Plan for everyone in the house and stock up on foods that have multiple uses.

  • Buy things that several people in the house like, and don’t forget to take care of yourself while caring for the family (i.e., buy some things you like too!)
  • Look for things that work for multiple eating occasions (meal or snack, at home or on the go)
  • Look for items that store well both at home and in a backpack or desk drawer

2. Take stock of your lunch-packing equipment, and check with school for guidelines.

  • Thermal lunch bags
  • Ice packs
  • Thermos
  • Washable/microwavable freezer-to-table dishes
  • Reusable utensils

3. Take pictures of the freezer, pantry and fridge before you leave the house. 4. Shop the whole store.

  • Buy pre-portioned items when it makes sense
  • Buy in bulk for items that are easily portioned later
  • Shop every food group
  • Don’t forget the herbs, spices and other extras that make meals sing

5. Take advantage of the season to mix up menus.

  • Fruits and veggies are an easy way to keep things interesting
  • Salads are great for summer, soups and stews for winter
  • Smoothies for fall; oatmeal for winter

6. Use online tools before, during, and/or after you shop.

  • How-to videos help with trying new items
  • Recipes can help plan the week’s grocery list
  • Apps can help with menu planning, recipes, snack ideas and more

7. Try something new.

  • Inspired by a restaurant or great meal at a friend’s house
  • Try recipes on the weekend so you can feel confident on busy week nights
  • Ask the family what they are seeing friends/colleagues bring for lunch or snacks