The Family Meal Has Evolved, for the Better

Every aspect of the nightly family dinner has changed significantly over the past 20 years. Yet research shows that families who dine together at home eat more ‘real food’ and less pre-cooked or processed foods. They also eat significantly more fruits and vegetables.

Not so long ago, Americans sat down every night to a large portion of red meat with an overflowing side of potatoes or another starchy food. There was possibly a little pile of canned peas and a plate nearby with a stack of white bread.  But in many households today, the big, heavy, beef entrée is a rarity, more often than not. It has been replaced with healthier options–fish, chicken, pork or vegetarian–which comprise about 25 percent of the dinner plate. The starch portion is now fiber and grain-focused, covering another 25 percent of the plate.  A plethora of fresh fruit and vegetable options fill the remaining 50 percent of the plate.

Due to scheduling and work demands, men or older children are often in charge of meal prep today.  Since no one is home during the day to plan or prepare dinner, meals may be outsourced to local restaurants or supermarkets that offer prepared foods.  Some households forego big dinners in lieu of larger midday meals or eating five light meals throughout the day.

But fear not, restaurants—even the fast food variety—have caught on that people are demanding healthier food options today.  And it’s not hard to find restaurants that have closed down over the past few years; if you don’t offer several healthy options—grilled protein, salads, fruits and soups—customers will simply go elsewhere.

From tasty and satisfying salad offerings at the local drive-through to a plethora of fish and sushi restaurants in every central NJ town, you can find a healthy restaurant meal for everyone in your family to enjoy.

In my own home, I may not have time to make pasta faggioli, but I can pick up quarts of it at my local grocery store. And at least once a week, our family crockpot is simmering something home-cooked and delicious when my family arrives home starving after a long day.

Today, households are made up of several types of families— combined families, living alone with a beloved pet, sharing a home with roommates or living child-free. The make-up of the modern family unit is as richly diverse as we are.  The way households share meals may have changed, and sit-down meals may be less frequent than we’d like. But making an effort to gather and share dinner, brunch or a quick lunch benefits everyone at the table—from supporting a healthy and nutritious lifestyle to providing each other support as we all navigate our way through the ups and downs of life.

Ayotunde Adeyeri, M.D., FASMBS, is a board-certified and fellowship-trained laparoscopic, bariatric and general surgeon and medical director of the Institute for Weight Loss at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center-Old Bridge. The Institute is accredited by the MBSAQIP as a Comprehensive Bariatric Center and provides individualized medical and surgical solutions and support for individuals seeking weight loss, including nutrition and lifestyle counseling. For more information or to attend a free bariatric surgery seminar, call 855-TIME-4-ME.

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