The importance of the family meal

The simple act of sharing meals provides many benefits to all family members:

Benefits of Family Mealtime

Several studies show how regular family meals are strongly associated with an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains and other healthy food choices.

– Family meals provide a sense of unity and the opportunity for daily communication.

– Parents can use family meals to monitor their children’s moods and activities, while also understanding what their kids are doing, with whom and where.

– Family meals have a positive impact on young children’s language and literacy development. By sharing family conversation, young children can learn new words, begin to understand language and build conversation skills.

– Many studies show family meals are linked with a variety of positive outcomes that improve child well-being. These include a decreased risk of substance use, improved personal and social well-being, and better academic performance.

– Family meals provide a perfect opportunity to model healthy eating habits. Adults can show moderate portion sizes and encourage new foods.

– Family mealtime can be used to encourage courtesy and teach social manners.

– Several studies show how regular family meals are strongly associated with an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains and other healthy food choices.

– Research suggests that family meals are associated with a reduced risk of childhood obesity in children and adolescents.

Source: Food Marketing Institute

Set a goal to have regular family meals at least 3 to 4 times per week, if possible. Most research notes some type of improvement in a child’s outcome when the family participated in at least three meals together each week. If dinner doesn’t work due to schedules, try breakfast or snack time.

Remember, the benefit of consistent family mealtimes. Routine family meals can generate feelings of closeness and comfort. Even when mealtimes are a bit hectic, having a regular mealtime schedule can provide children with needed stability.

Pay attention to the quality of family mealtime. This is a key time to communicate with your children and for them to do the same with you. Avoid outside distractions as much as possible. Turn off the TV and cell phones and ask each other open-ended questions about the day, school, friends and any goals family members have.

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Work on your family meal with this 7-day menu planner

Try this 7-Day Menu Planner to get a jump start on your week of family meals. These recipes come packed with the nutritional power of onions, which will in turn help your family’s gut and heart health.

DAY 1:

High Protein Onion & Quinoa Salad

This High Protein Onion Quinoa Salad is a nice, lighter option for dinner.

Serve with: Whole grain baguette from the bakery and frozen yogurt

DAY 2:

Wholesome Tuscan Pizza

Wholesome Tuscan Pizza
This Wholesome Tuscan Pizza is another great way to pack your meals with the nutrition power of the onion.

Serve with: Fresh melon wedges

DAY 3:

Chunky Southwestern Soup

Chunky Southwestern Soup
This Chunky Southwestern Soup will be a heat at the family meal table.

Serve with: Whole grain tortilla chips, low-fat milk

DAY 4:

Open Face Roast Turkey Sandwich w/Caramelized Balsamic Onions

This Open Face Roast Turkey Sandwich w/Caramelized Balsamic Onions adds a great kick to that plain old sandwich.

Serve with: Fresh pear slices or strawberries.

DAY 5:

Baja Fish Tacos with Onion Mango Salsa

Fish Tacos photo
This Baja Style Fish Tacos with Onion Mango Salsa will be just the treat for your hungry family.

Serve with: Pineapple chunks, low-fat milk

DAY 6:

Frittata with Onion, Tomato and Basil

This Frittata with Onion, Basil and Tomato will give your family the right start to make it through a busy Saturday.

Serve with: Whole grain English muffins, low-fat milk and fresh strawberries

DAY 7:

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Slow Cooker Pot Roast photo
A perfect end to the week. This Slow Cooker Pot Roast is easy to make. Fix it and forget about it until evening.

Serve with: Tossed green salad, whole grain rolls

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Making family meal time easy

September is Family Meals Month

Most parents have great intentions to put a healthy family meal on the table each evening, but real life and busy schedules can often get in the way. It is important to know that serving a gourmet meal is not necessary to reap the positive benefits a family meal provides. Gathering around the table to enjoy a simple meal can (and does) boost children’s self-esteem, promote healthy eating skills, and help connect as a family.

Aim for 3-4 family meals a week for natural family time.

Try these easy and affordable family meal ideas that use healthy, convenient items from your local supermarket and ask the whole family to get involved in the preparation.

Make the family meal easy

– Cook frozen potato and cheese perogies; top with sautéed peppers and onions (find them pre-sliced in the produce department); serve with milk and fresh apple slices.

– Make a quick batch of chicken chili by sautéing 1 cup of diced onions in a large stock pot until tender. Add a 48-ounce jar of cooked great northern beans, 1 jar of salsa, 2-3 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken, 1 tablespoon cumin and 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Heat and serve with blue corn tortilla chips.

– Create a taco bar with cooked lean ground beef or turkey, canned black beans, shredded 2% cheddar cheese, diced onions and tomatoes, avocado slices and salsa.

– Use whole grain naan bread or small prepared pizza crusts to make veggie pizzas. Add sliced bell peppers, red onion, olives, mushrooms and other favorite veggies to see who can make the most colorful creation.

– Mix canned tuna with finely diced onion and celery: add light mayonnaise and garlic powder to taste. Top toasted whole grain bread slices with tuna mixture and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Broil in the oven until cheese melts. Serve with fresh pears and milk.

– Want dinner ready when you come home? Try this delicious pot roast recipe! Simply add all the ingredients to your slow cooker in the morning. Serve with a prepared green salad later the same day!

When time is tight, a little pre-planning helps assemble delicious dinnertime meals for the whole family. Consider picking up and stocking up on healthy, convenient ingredients, then, have everyone pitch in to make the family meal truly easy!

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Onions as the next great ingredient in ice cream? Believe it.

In the dead of summer, ice cream is a necessary, and as we get well into National Ice Cream Month, we wondered how creative we could get with adding onions into ice cream.

Before you say “Ew!” hear us out.

We’ve had onion ice cream before at a special event. It made for a great dessert. However, we couldn’t get a recipe. So we worked with Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA, executive chef at the University of Northern Colorado, to develop his own version of onion ice cream.  Why is this important? We at the National Onion Association believe strongly in getting vegetables in the diet. If you can get away with infusing the great nutrition of an onion into a sweet dessert, why not?

Onions naturally contain sugars. When you caramelize onions, the process draws out those sugars for a great flavor much richer than a raw onion any day. So Chef Essig came up with Caramelized Onion Brandy Ice Cream.

Caramelized Onion Brandy Ice Cream is easy to make and so sweet!

Making onion ice cream

See video here.

But this recipe is not like stringy onions are winding their way through your ice cream cone. This recipe uses caramelized onions that are deglazed with a bit of brandy, then puréed into a liquid with the traditional milk, cream and sugar.

After the liquid is pureed, heat to a simmer — careful not to boil over — then let it steep for 15 minutes.

Another unique element is that you don’t need an ice cream maker to make it. Just pour it in a clean, metal pan and put in the freezer from 2-3 hours, popping in every 20 minutes for a stir to get air into the mix.

After 2-3 hours in the freezer, this ice cream is ready to scoop!

This recipe calls for cardamom, too, which infuses a hint of citrusy-spicy flavor to the onions and the brandy. Chef Essig also put some chives and shallots into this recipe, giving it a hint of savory, which could almost make this ice cream perfect a perfect replacement for the salad before dinner. Trust us, this ice cream is yummy and easy to make. Try it out and tell us what you think.

Caramelized Onion Brandy Ice Cream


1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 ¼ tsp vegetable oil
6 teaspoons brandy
2 cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups milk, whole
1 ½ cup sugar, granulated
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cardamom pods
2 teaspoon dried shallot (optional)
2 teaspoon chives (optional)


Thinly slice onion.Heat oil in sauté pan and deeply caramelize onion over medium heat. Deglaze the pan with brandy and cook off all alcohol. Reduce any liquid until dry. Weigh out 2/3 cup of the onion. Combine the heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, and 2/3 cup of the caramelized onions in a sauce pot. Bring to boil and remove from heat. Be cautious not to allow it to boil over. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 15 minutes. 

Transfer to a blender and blend till smooth. Transfer to a clean, shallow, metal pan appropriate for the size of the liquid. Add dried shallot and chives if desired. Place the pan in the freezer. Stir every 20 minutes until the ice cream reaches the desired consistency. This could take up to 3 hours. Yields approx. 1 1/3 quart

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Balsamic-laced caramelized onions make for great sandwich

You don’t have go to the hottest brewery to get a great sandwich and some caramelized onions!

Roast Turkey and Caramelized Balsamic Onions sandwich photo.
Try this Open Face Roast Turkey Sandwich with Caramelized Balsamic Onions for a brew-pub like lunch in the comfort of your own home.

You can easily amp up your next tavern-style spread at home, and all it takes is a little balsamic vinegar, and not a lot of time.

All you have to do is caramelize your onions, then put in some balsamic and pile them atop some great roasted meats with whatever veggies you please. Get a good roll, toast it and you’ve got a hearty lunch guaranteed to keep you satisfied through dinner.

Our version is rather cleverly called the Open Face Roast Turkey Sandwich with Caramelized Balsamic Onions. Now, there’s nothing magic about this sandwich. It does, however, offer same great off-setting tastes that gives your sandwich the perfect bite — at least from what we’d normally eat with a slab of turkey and cheese with mayo.

We got adventurous with ours, however. Last week, we made Asian Plum-Onion Chutney, and that stuff sticks around for a while – meaning you don’t need to use a lot of it. Layering that on our sandwich instead of regular condiments turned it into something special. But even without it, the caramelized onions offer a nice tang.  And don’t forget the loads of nutrition you’re getting!

We suggest turning this into lunch at your next picnic. What a great sandwich to bring on the next trip to the park or the outdoors.

Open Face Roast Turkey Sandwich with Caramelized Balsamic Onions

Roast Turkey Sandwich with  Caramelized Balsamic Onions photo.
Avoid the tavern and make this onion masterpiece at home.


2 cups sliced yellow onions
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil 
2 tablespoons Balsamic or red wine vinegar 
1 pound roast turkey, sliced 
4 crusty rolls, split, buttered and toasted 
Cracked black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves (stripped from stem) 
8 cherry tomatoes, halved 


Gently sauté onions in oil until tender and golden. Add balsamic vinegar and cook about 2 minutes or until liquid is nearly gone. Divide lettuce and turkey onto rolls. Top with onions, black pepper, oregano and tomatoes. 
Makes 4 servings.

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