Plan, be positive, unplug: 5 ways to make family meals more enjoyable

(BPT) - With our busy lifestyles today, finding time to shop for groceries, cook, then meet as a family to enjoy a meal together can be a major challenge.

A Harris poll shows only 30 percent of American families share dinner each night. Yet the benefits of maintaining that family time are so substantial that it’s well worth your while to make it happen.

Research shows, for example, that kids and teens who share meals with their families three or more times per week are significantly less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthy foods and less likely to have eating disorders. Further, such togetherness is linked with higher grades, better self-esteem and positive behaviors such as sharing, fairness and respect among children who participate.

In that spirit, we asked actress, host, food lover and mom of two Courtney Lopez for some helpful tips on how she gets her family together for mealtime. Lopez has recently teamed up with Eggland’s Best, a proud supporter of the American Heart Association’s Healthy For Good(TM) movement, to challenge families across America to pledge to stay at the table for an additional “dozen” minutes.

1. Unplug and unwind. Make your table a phone-free zone, encouraging everyone to talk about their day. This will help your family grow closer together and become more and more involved in each other’s lives. You might be surprised what you will learn!

2. Try new dishes. Comfort food can be a great thing, but so can the sense of adventure that comes from trying new dishes. Eggland’s Best eggs can be incorporated into an endless spectrum of family-friendly recipes like this Southwestern Quinoa and Egg Breakfast Bowl. EB eggs are the only eggs good enough for my family meals, with superior nutrition like 25 percent less saturated fat and 6 times more vitamin D than ordinary eggs.

3. Make it a team effort. Your family will feel more involved if they share the work. My little guys love helping out by cracking eggs, stirring, sprinkling spices or setting the table. Allowing little ones to help out can also get them excited about the meal, even if they tend to be picky eaters. And as the old saying goes, many hands make light work.

4. Plan ahead. It can be tough to have nutritious meals ready to go with a busy schedule, but spending just a few hours of your weekend buying, prepping or even cooking the components of your weekday meals will go a long way. You’ll thank yourself when you’re hungry and tired at the end of a long day; having everything nearly ready to serve reduces the chances you’ll opt for fast food or other less-healthy food options.

5. Focus on the positive. No one wants to share a table with fellow diners who are grouchy and unpleasant to each other — although sometimes that can be unavoidable with kids. To keep it positive during this relatively short time each day, avoid judgments, lectures, sarcasm and snarky comments. Ask each person about the highs and lows of his or her day, setting aside this space and time to celebrate victories and help each other through life's challenges.

Sharing great food together can be an excellent way to create positive memories and boost family bonding. Learn more and sign up for the Eggland’s Best Family Meals Pledge at EBfamilymealspledge.com.