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Gather ‘round the table

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Less than a third of American families eat dinner together — and we're on a mission to change that. Here’s a look at the American dinner situation, plus a good family recipe.

There is something about digging in the dirt that gets me excited about spring. I’ve already gone to Home Depot and grabbed the narcissus bulbs that someone in the marketing department cleverly had ready for people like me. Excitement for me is seeing them bloom after I dug into the dirt in my planter box outside the picture window. (And yes, it happened within a couple of days!) Double excitement if the squirrels don’t find the bulbs — that means I’ll have early flowers next year.

I learned to love the dirt from my parents. As a youngster, I’d help Mom in the garden and often ride in the combine with Dad or in the truck taking grain to the elevator. As a family, we would start planting the garden with lettuce and peas. By Easter time, we would harvest the asparagus patch, and later on, we spent plenty of time snapping green beans and putting up corn for the winter. Mom didn’t can much, but she had an extra-large freezer.

Studies now back up Mom’s theory that if you want your child to eat healthy, have them help in the garden and kitchen. Children benefit greatly from the ritual of eating meals together. Family meals provide opportunities for sharing the day's events and create a relaxing transition from busy daytime activities to evening ones. Even with my son now in college, I have a favorite question to ask: What was the best thing about your day? When he’s home on a break, we all ask and answer the question and share a little about our day.

Cooking meals at home and involving your children in food preparation is the best way to teach them healthy eating habits. Statistically, children who grow up in households where meals are eaten together perform better academically and show less tendency toward engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking and taking drugs, according to Washington State University nutrition researchers Martha Marina and Sue Butkus.

That’s the power of a family meal, especially if it’s eaten at home.

Restaurant and other commercially prepared foods are notoriously high in fat, salt and sugar. These foods are fine as an occasional indulgence or for a special occasion, but not healthy as a regular diet. Preparing most of your meals at home even helps train your palate toward healthier fare. Your creative cooking skills are bound to improve considerably as you learn enjoyable ways to cook with flavorful and healthy ingredients. More meals cooked and eaten at home may even help trim the national waistline and turn the tide on the obesity epidemic.

Yet, despite the advantages, Americans eat fewer than 70% of their meals at home, and less than a third of American families eat meals together more than twice a week, according to Emory University.

I’m on a mission to change that. Join with me in trying to eat an additional meal at home this week.

Here’s a recipe for your family to enjoy — straight from my family.

Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
1 lb. chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 tablespoon taco seasoning
1 small onion, finely diced
1 can Rotel tomatoes and chilies, drained
1 (15-ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 cup light sour cream
1½ cups reduced-fat colby-jack cheese
12 small whole-wheat tortillas

Combine shredded chicken, taco seasoning, onion and Rotel. Combine enchilada sauce and sour cream. Place a small amount of chicken mixture, sauce and cheese on a tortilla and roll up. Place enchilada in greased 9-by-13-inch pan, seam side down. Repeat with all tortillas, using all the chicken mixture but saving some sauce and cheese. Top enchiladas with remaining sauce and cheese. Cover with greased aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees F, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 to 15 minutes more, until cheese is brown and bubbly. Serves 6.

Fargo is a dietitian for HyVee in Springfield. Send recipe ideas to her at [email protected].


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