Most of us have a lot on our plates in September — literally.

It’s back to school (whatever that looks like this year), back to schedules and back to meals at home. Wait, haven’t we been doing that in this shelter-at-home, don’t-go-out-to-eat time?

We have. But September is National Family Meals Month, and if you’re like me, there’s always room to improve on rediscovering the important role of the family dinner table and cooking at home.

It’s a great time to remind ourselves that sit-down family meals are worth taking the time to plan. That’s because eating food prepared at home usually has less salt and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

But, perhaps equally important, sitting down around the table means conversation with our families. Family meals are linked to better eating habits, according to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Regular family meals are associated with decreased risks for substance abuse and violence, according to the Journal of Adolescence.

Mealtime can mean experimenting with new foods and flavors, learning mealtime etiquette, and developing social and communication skills in children. Did you know that dinnertime conversation can actually improve kids’ vocabularies?

The best meals are those you cook with your kids. Make it fun and your kids will love to cook when they get older.

It all starts with making a plan. Take a Sunday afternoon, and scope out what’s in your pantry and freezer. Then grocery shop for what you don’t have on hand.

My friend, Cindy, always took her three kids with her to the grocery store and let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable they’d never tried before. They took ownership of that item, helping prepare it and sharing it with the rest of the family. All her kids have developed into adventuresome cooks because of it.

Celebrating family meals may be one of the best investments you make in your family.


Q: I’m trying to reduce sugar in my diet. Can you give me some ideas?

A: Try eating whole fruit rather than drinking fruit juices. Whole fruit contains natural sugar, vitamins, minerals and fiber and is digested by our bodies differently than added sugars. Replace soda with plain or carbonated water. A 12-ounce can of soda contains about 32 grams of added sugar.

It’s important to read labels. Many foods have added sugars, even those you wouldn’t suspect such as salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and ketchup. If you like sugar in your coffee, cereal or oatmeal, try using less than you usually do. Over time, you’ll get used to using less.

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast

Here’s a recipe to make a great family meal — one that will be ready when you walk in the door from work. The key is to put the vegetables on the bottom and to sear the roast before putting it in the slow cooker. It seals in the flavors.


» 1 pound baby blonde potatoes (size B potatoes), halved

» 1 (12-ounce) bag baby carrots

» 1 medium white onion, cut into wedges

» 1 (2½- to 3-pound) boneless beef chuck arm pot roast

» ½ teaspoon salt

» ¼ teaspoon pepper

» 1½ tablespoons canola oil

» 2 teaspoons minced garlic

» 1½ cups reduced-sodium beef broth, divided

» 2 tablespoons tomato paste

» 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

» 2 teaspoon herbes de Provence or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

» 8-ounce package frozen whole green beans

» ½ cup cold water

» ¼ cup flour

» Fresh thyme, for garnish


Place potatoes, carrots and onion in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Pat roast dry; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium-high heat in nonstick skillet. Add roast, and sear 2 to 4 minutes on each side. Place on top of vegetables in slow cooker. Add garlic to skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5 seconds. Add ½ cup broth. Bring to a boil, scraping brown bits in skillet. Boil until it reduces by half. Whisk in remaining 1 cup broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and herbes de Provence.

Return to boil, and then add to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or until beef reaches 205 degrees. Place frozen green beans on top of roast, and continue cooking in slow cooker 30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, make gravy by straining 1½ cups juice from slow cooker into a saucepan. Whisk together water and flour; add to saucepan. Cook and stir until bubbly. Cook 1 minute more. Serve with roast and vegetables. Garnish with fresh thyme, if desired.


Serves 6

Per serving: 380 calories; 40 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 5 grams fiber; 6 grams sugar (0 added); 270 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.