by Ellen Minier (aka: ChefNurse)
Consistent family time is something that may seem difficult to achieve given the hectic schedules of the average American family, but there is a simple way to come together with proven positive impact on the mental wellness of the entire family. Eating together may seem like a small step to take on the path to achieving mental wellness, but its importance cannot be understated. Research shows that eating together as a family can lower the risk of developing depression, eating disorders, and substance use disorders, while increasing self-esteem and academic performance.
Teenagers who do not eat together with their parents are 1-2 times more likely to try alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco products. This is reportedly due to the likelihood of decreased communication among family members.
A family dinner that lasts 20-30 minutes at least three times weekly is proven to improve healthy habits that will have a positive impact on self-esteem. For example, children who eat with their parents are 24% more likely to eat more whole grains, vegetables, and proteins that decrease the likelihood of having to deal with the long-term physical and mental repercussions of obesity.
Family togetherness spent eating meals opens up a wealth of opportunity for conversations that may improve mental health. Some examples of conversation starters include:
- Choosing a positive character trait and brainstorming ways to manifest that quality; the next evening, discuss whether or not each person was successful in obtaining that goal
- Everyone share something they learned about themselves that day
- Go around the table and share something that makes them feel grateful
Be sure to set boundaries that all conversations be respectful and encouraging.
I have included a recipe for tomato soup that can be served with grilled cheese sandwiches that is one of the most requested dinners from my family. I hope you enjoy spending time around your dinner table together.
Herbed Tomato Soup
2- 28oz cans tomato puree
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
1 cup chopped fresh herbs of your choice (parsley, dill, green onion tops, basil)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, carrots, and garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir. Cook until onion is translucent. Add tomato puree, chicken broth, honey (if using), and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes while you prepare the grilled cheese sandwiches. Just before serving, stir in the fresh herbs. Serve immediately.
Tips for the perfect grilled cheese sandwiches:
- Grate the cheese so it melts quickly and evenly
- Butter the bread instead of the pan—you will use less butter, and it ensures even coverage on both sides
- Use medium to low heat so that the cheese melts completely before the bread gets overcooked
“I have been fortunate enough to have had 2 careers in my lifetime – psychiatry and culinary arts. I obtained my degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University in 1998 and worked as a chef for many years. When I became a mother, I was inspired to go back to school and began my path to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Even though I left the professional world of cooking behind, I still absolutely love creating delicious and beautiful meals for my friends and family. I am so excited to share with you how food and mental wellness are connected to one another.”