10 Simple Tips to Enjoy Stress Free Meals at Home

The Mora FamilyWe’ve all been there. Those meal times where nothing seems to go right and eating well is on the bottom of our priority list. In fact, these sorts of meals may happen so often that it almost seems like eating in a stress-free environment is impossible.

Yet eating stress-free is incredibly important. Not only does the research show that eating slowly and in a relaxed environment can boost your mood, it can also be beneficial for the digestion process.

Families who eat together regularly often see benefits too. Research from Columbia University found that when children ate dinner regularly with their families, they were less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and more likely to do better in school. In fact, the best adjusted children were those who ate meals with an adult at least 5 times a week.

Although 5 meals at home a week may not be doable for everyone, there are many ways to improve the overall eating experience you have either on your own or with those you love.

10 Simple Ways to Keep Meal Time Stress Free

Tip #1: Set Up an Environment That Works For You. Think about the best meal you ever had. Was it the best just because the food was amazing or was it the best because the environment was also appealing? Odds are, the enivornment in which you found yourself in played a large role in making that meal amazing. Try to recreate that meal at home. Perhaps its something as simple as lighting a candle or adding a vase of flowers to your table setting. Your environment during meal prep is also important. Keeping your kitchen organized, having the right ingredients on hand, and setting time aside to prep some of the meal ingredients ahead of schedule may allow you to have a more relaxed and productive experience in the kitchen.

Tip #2: Take a Few Minutes to Relax Before Stepping Foot in the Kitchen. Let’s face it. Our lives are stressful and we often bring that stress with us to the table. Before approaching dinner, or any meal we’re preparing for that matter, take a few moments to breathe. Leave that stress outside the kitchen and try to start anew. Make meal time your new fun time.

Tip #3: Create some Family-Friendly Ground Rules. In order for everyone to fully enjoy meal times together, its important to know what to expect and to allow everyone to be a part of the process. To minimize stress at meal times, consider coming up with a few ground rules that everyone at your table can abide by. Perhaps its turning off cell phones or having a set time for that one meal a week you are able to gather together. Or perhaps everyone gets to be in charge of their own part of the meal. Together, decide what a stress free meal time might look like and write down your own guidelines to ensure that what you envision takes place.

Tip #4: Have the Right Foods on Hand. Nothing is more stressful than walking into your kitchen, opening up your cupboard, and realizing you don’t have all the ingredients you need to make the dish you were prepared for. To minimize the risk of this happening, make sure you plan trips to the grocery store on a regular basis and have a few back up meals on hand just in case you don’t make it as planned OR forget an ingredient or two despite your best efforts.

Tip #5: Focus on Making Small Changes. If you’re reading this and are thinking that incorporating ALL of these ideas at once might be a good idea, be forewarned – you’re likely to still be stressed! Why? Because changing everything might be just as much work as before. Instead, focus on one small thing you and your family can do each week to not only make meal times more of a priority, but more enjoyable too. Maybe its setting a day an time each week that works for your clan or making your dining room a distraction free zone. Start with one small change and then continue to build up from there. Remember, eating well is not a sprint – its more like a marathon.

Tip #6: Divide and Conquer! If you’re usually the one doing all the work in the kitchen, its no wonder meal time is stressful! The more complicated a recipe, the more directions you’re likely to be pulled in too, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Encouraging the rest of your family to get involved in the meal making process not only can make meal prep go faster, but it can be incredibly beneficial for everyone involved. Not only will it require older members of your family to get more familiar with cooking techniques and the foods they are preparing, it will also help younger members of your family become more open to the entire food prep process. To eat well, it is important to know how various ingredients compliment each other and how to read a recipe. And if everyone is involved in the process, odds are good that everyone will be a little more invested in the meal when its served.

It can also be beneficial to serve meals family style and allow your kids to serve themselves versus plating up their food ahead of time. It may be a little bit messier, but research has shown that this method allows children to better identify hunger and fullness cues which is important for maintaining healthy body weights.

Tip #7: Get the Conversation Started…And Keep It Going Strong! Meal times aren’t just about the food. They are also about the relationships you build. To keep your environment stress-free, make sure your conversations stay positive. Avoid scolding and criticizing – instead focus on positive interactions, moments, and experiences.

If you aren’t quite sure how to get the conversation started, consider having a few conversation starters at the ready. Having everyone go around the table sharing their best moment of the day is a great place to start. Or consider playing a game. If you have young children, playing a game of “I Spy” can be a lot of fun and an opportunity to get them excited about the foods they are about to eat. For older kids, asking “Would You Rather” questions can be a lot of fun as well.

Tip #8: Get Some of the Work Out of the Way On Another Day. When you have a full meal to prep, it can be a stressful and daunting task – especially if you’re already famished and just want to eat something. To reduce stress and make meal time more manageable, try to prep some of your meal in advance. You may even find that when you schedule a separate prep time during a non-hectic part of your day or week, that cooking is rather enjoyable! Even if your prep time is late at night while everyone else is sleeping, consider what works for you in your current schedule. Even prepping just a few of the ingredients ahead of time can make meal prep before you eat incredibly less hectic.

Tip #9: Schedule Your Meals, But Be Flexible. To minimize the stress that often comes with having family meals, we often settle for convenience. This means less meals together, more meals away from the dinner table, and often less nutritious options too. But you don’t have to leave the table to leave the stress behind. Incorporating these tips can be helpful, but in order for them to work, you have to have family meals on the calendar to begin with. Although having all meals together may not be realistic, odds are you can find room in your schedule for at least one or two meals a week. They don’t have to be dinner either – perhaps its easier for your family to wake up a bit earlier to have breakfast together on the weekends. Start small, think big.

After your meals are scheduled in, its okay to be flexible too. If something comes up or if you don’t have the right ingredients on hand, make sure you have a plan in place for those occasions too.

Tip #10: Celebrate the Little Things. The best way to ensure success is to make one small change at a time and to continue to build up from there. Not only will this make change more manageable, but it also allows gives you more opportunity to celebrate. As your family continues to work towards stress free meals, keep track of the changes you make and the results you see. Consider making a challenge board and award prizes for the little accomplishments – like trying a new vegetable, setting the table, or even turning off cell phones.

Meal times should and can be enjoyable. Figure out what a healthy, happy meal looks like for you and your family and start working towards that today.

Booting the Stress Out of Family Mealtimes

Child Eating WatermelonMost parents would agree that meal times tops the list as one of the most stressful parts of the day. Between fumbling to get the dinner table set, having the children in their seats, inspecting hands for dirt, and providing a meal that everyone will eat, it’s enough to make any parent want to pull their hair out. In 11 Ways to Create Happier Family Mealtimes, an article written by Rebecca Horseman, MS, RD, she provides some effective tips to help parents achieve a more organized and happier family mealtime.

Some of my favorite suggestions from Rebecca’s article include:

  • Reducing the number of times you have to leave the table, by making sure everything you need is waiting nearby. For example, an extra pitcher of water or wet washcloths for messy hands and faces.
  • Calmly dismissing whininess, fighting, and rudeness away from the table. If your child happens to be throwing a fit, have them to take a 5-minute time out and only come back when they can be happy and thankful for their meal.

Here are a few other simple ways that I’ve discovered to make meal times more enjoyable for everyone:

  • Throw the “clear your plate rule” out the window. Butting heads with your children about uneaten food will accomplish nothing but increased tension at the dinner table. Children will naturally experiment with different foods the more times they are exposed to them, so don’t be too pushy if they refuse it the first time.
  • Make the dinner table a technology-free zone. This rule is for everyone, no exceptions! Distractions such as television and cell phones can wait until after the meal is over. Instead, use dinner as social time to catch-up and interact with your family. Try asking your children about their day at school, if they learned anything new, or even try getting everyone’s input on dinner requests for the following week.
  • Have a quick and easy back-up plan ready for fruit and vegetable options. Having additional options ready-to-go in case you have a picky eater on your hands will really cut down on mealtime stress. For example, single-serving microwavable steamed vegetables, fruit cups with natural juice, or veggies with dip are fast and require little additional preparation.
  • Divide and Conquer. Get everyone in the family involved with setting the table, getting drinks ready, and cleaning-up after the meal. If everyone is assigned a task that rotates throughout the week, you will find yourself less flustered than if you were to try to manage it all on your own.

Its quite inevitable that there will be some bumps in the road while cooking and feeding your family, but following these tips will move you towards making meal times more painless and an enjoyable daily bonding experience.

For even more helpful tips, be sure to visit Rebecca’s blog Tots to Teens Nutrition.

How does your family minimize distractions at the table? 

An Intern Behind the Plate,


Tots to Teens Nutrition ScreenshotTots to Teens Nutrition is a blog written and maintained by Rebecca Horsman, MS, RD.  Rebecca is one of Around the Plate’s Nutrition Experts and is a member of thePlate Community. As a Nutrition Expert, Rebecca makes eating healthy simple. Find other nutrition experts, recipe gurus, and healthy eating champions on our community blog network.

Garden Turkey Meatloaf

Photo courtesy of Keep the Beat™, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

I’m always on the lookout for nutritious meals that are unique and family friendly. Earlier this month I was fortunate to find the Deliciously Healthy Family Meals cookbook courtesy of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Not only does it provide a wide variety of family approved meals, but it also provides tips for “chefs in training” and picky eaters while also breaking down the nutritional value of each food suggestion. Its a great resource for families looking to make meal time more interactive and enjoyable.

Earlier this week Intern Jen brought up the notion of modifying some of our favorite comfort foods into slightly better, more healthier versions. I love this idea – and so do the people behind the Deliciously Healthy Family Meals Cookbook. At least I believe this to be the case because some of the recipes are labeled as “Healthier Classics”. These recipes are family table regulars – with a healthy twist. Ultimately this means better nutritional benefits for you with the same great foods you have grown to love over the years. This also means your kids may be more willing to give them a try the first or second time around.

When choosing a recipe for this week’s Meal on the Plate, my choice was pretty easy. I went with a family classic, but not necessarily my family’s classic. In fact, this is a meal I have never attempted before. Crazy, I know! But growing up it was never one of my top foods. This recipe has changed my mind about that.

Recipe: Garden Turkey Meatloaf

For the Meatloaf: 
2 C Vegetables, assorted (I used mushrooms, green pepper, and zucchini)
12 oz Ground turkey, 99% lean
1/2 C Whole wheat bread crumbs
1/4 C Evaporated milk, fat-free
1/4 tsp Black pepper, ground
2 Tbsp Ketchup
1 tsp Chives, dried
1 tsp Parsley, dried

For the Glaze: 
1 Tbsp Ketchup
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Honey Dijon Mustard

Nonstick cooking spray

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lightly saute the assorted vegetables in a saute pan over medium heat.
3. Combine the assorted vegetables and the rest of the meatloaf ingredients together in a bowl.
4. Spray a loaf pan with the nonstick cooking spray. Spread the meatloaf mixture into the sprayed pan evenly.
5. Mix all of the ingredients for the glaze together and brush over the top of the meatloaf mixture.
6. Place the meatloaf in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Make sure that it cooks to an internal temperature of 165 degrees before removing from the oven.
7. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.
8. Serve and enjoy!

Nutrition Facts: 
Makes 4 servings
Serving Size: 2 slices

Calories: 180 kcal
Fat: 2 g
Saturated Fat: 0 g
Protein: 25 g
Carbohydrates: 17 g
Carb Choices: ~1
Fiber: 2 g
Cholesterol: 34 mg
Sodium: 368 mg

Not only did this recipe change my mind about meatloaf – my husband was a big fan! In fact, I’m pretty sure he said that I “knocked it out of the park the first time around” with this recipe. Whoa – it must be good!

You can find this and other “healthier classic” recipes in the downloadable version of this cookbook. And if you are looking for more than classics turned healthy, check out the “Leftover Friendly”, “Healthy Eating Two Ways”, and “Chefs in Training” inspired recipes. Your bound to find one that you and your whole family loves!

The Girl Behind the Plate,


We, the girls behind the plate, did not write, create or develop this recipe – we just liked it a lot and wanted to share it with you! The original recipe can be found at http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/healthyeating/pdfs/KTB_Family_Cookbook_2010.pdf..