Healthy Eating Week begins on Oct. 1 this year, and ends, appropriately, on Thanksgiving Day, Oct. 8.
To promote the value and pleasure of good eating, the P.E.I. Healthy Eating Alliance is encouraging all Islanders to sit down with their household for dinner for the week. They’re calling it the Eat Together Challenge.
Notice the wording. They are challenging households to sit around the table at dinnertime. That includes traditional families, but it also includes roommates, empty-nesters, young couples, anyone who lives together as a household.
In some ways, the value of sitting together for a meal is institutionalized. Dating couples go out to dinner. There are meals attached to important occasions: weddings, funerals, holidays, birthdays. Some restaurants find that their weekend brunches are the most popular meals of the week.
We have, though, been losing focus on gathering around a table for meals at home every day. We’re busy, mobile and preoccupied. We have conflicting schedules. We are distracted. We eat everywhere and all the time, but we it seems difficult to synchronize our plans so that we can eat together.
There is, however, value in finding ways to do so. People draw closer to one another when they sit together at table. Mealtime together is a forum for conversation and communication, keeping up with what each is doing, having a laugh, or solving the problems of the world. Sitting down for a meal is a break, both physical and mental, from the busyness of the day, especially when cell phones and televisions are turned off. It also imposes some structure that supports people in preparing and eating healthy meals, instead of just grabbing whatever’s handy to fill the void.
Eating meals with the family has been shown to benefit children. Many studies have demonstrated that children and youth who eat meals with others tend to eat more fruit and vegetables, and more nutritious meals overall. When families eat meals together, parents can teach children what, and how much to eat by example; they can model healthy eating behaviours that they want for their children.
To support families in establishing or continuing the habit of eating meals together without distractions, P.E.I. Healthy Eating Alliance is taking the Eat Together Challenge to Island schools. Each student will get a checkmark for every day they sit down at the table for dinner with their household with no distractions, and a participating class will be chosen, through a draw, to receive a class prize.
There is no doubt that parents experience extreme time pressure, and that it is a challenge to put together meals for families to enjoy together. Nonetheless, preparing healthy meals is important enough that it is worthy of the effort and time it takes.
That said, I know — having been through that stage of family life — that families can use all the help with they can get with meal preparation.
Healthy Eating Alliance has prepared a tip sheet with ideas to help make it easier and more fun. They have lots of suggestions for easy, healthy meals on their website, www.healthyeatingpei.ca, and their Facebook page, which you can find by typing PEI Healthy Eating Alliance (HEA) in the FB search box.
Here is one of the healthy, kid-friendly recipes that they recommend; they credit it to Dietitians of Canada’s Simply Great Food. To reduce chopping time, the recipe calls for frozen vegetables and canned baby corn. Feel free to use freshly chopped garden vegetables if you prefer. Onion wedges and diced red and green peppers would be good in this recipe.
Vegetable Stir-Fry with Beef
125 mL (½ cup) water
15 mL (1 tbsp) liquid honey
3 mL (¾ tsp) ground ginger
1 mL (¼ tsp) freshly ground black pepper
25 mL (2 tbsp) lower-sodium soy sauce
5 mL (1 tsp) cornstarch
2 mL (½ tsp) garlic powder
15 mL (1 tbsp) vegetable oil
500 g (1 lb) top sirloin beef, cut into thin strips
1 package (500 g/1 lb) frozen vegetables (Japanese or California mix)
25 mL (2 tbsp) water
1 can (398 mL/14 oz) baby corn, drained and rinsed (optional)
Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, combine water, soy sauce, honey, cornstarch, ginger, garlic powder and pepper.
Heat a wok or large frying pan (with a lid) over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat pan. Stir-fry beef for 3 to 4 minutes or until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate.
Add frozen vegetables and water to frying pan. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, for about 8 minutes or until hot and tender-crisp. Add beef, sauce, and baby corn (if using). Cook stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and bubbling, and beef is fork-tender, about 3 minutes.
Serve over hot cooked rice, pasta or couscous.
Whether your household includes children or not, I encourage you to participate in the Eat Together Challenge during Healthy Eating Week. If schedules don’t permit you to sit together for the evening meal, aim to have breakfast or lunch together. Find a little time, every day, to unwind and share a healthy meal together.
For more information about Healthy Eating Week, contact Jessica Matheson at 620-3672.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.