Gather Around the Table for Family Meals Month

By Anne Hytrek, MSEd, RD, LD, CDE

September is National Family Meals month and Anne Hytrek, registered dietitian, Ankeny Prairie Trail Hy-Vee, discusses how eating meals together translates into long-term benefits. Plus, find an easy weeknight skillet lasagna recipe.

Gather around the table for Family Meals Month! Fostering family mealtime by preparing and eating food together can create long-lasting relationships and big benefits. Eating family dinners can lead to better and more healthful food choices. Research shows that kids who eat together at home eat more fruits and vegetables and are less likely to be overweight or obese. Family dinners may also relieve stress and save money. Make this special time each day count by disconnecting from screens and devices and focusing on connecting with family.

Tips for involving the kids in meal prep

Get all hands-on deck when it comes to preparing your meal. Give your kids age-appropriate jobs to involve them in meal planning, shopping and cooking and they will be more likely to try new foods. Here are a few general guidelines you can follow:

3- to 5-year-olds: Preschool age kids are ready to start helping with small tasks like adding ingredients, stirring, washing fruits and vegetables and tearing fresh herbs.

6- to 9-year-olds: Measure out ingredients in cups and measuring spoons, crack eggs, read through recipe and follow directions, wash and dry dishes.

Kids 10+: Learn to use knives (cut, slice and chop), peel fruits and vegetables, supervised cooking at the stove, helping with grocery list and putting away groceries.

For some families, spending as little as 20 minutes together can build kids’ self-esteem, increase emotional intelligence, and give children a broader life perspective. Make it easier to dine together by prepping several meals in advance.

The tasty weeknight skillet lasagna recipe below is not only delicious, it’s also a great recipe to engage the kiddos in the meal preparation. Fruits and vegetables make great side dishes to this meal that is sure to be a family favorite.

Throughout the year, Hy-Vee store dietitians host classes to help make meal planning easier. For example, during September, virtual freezer meal classes are taking place. These hour-long virtual events guide participants through preparing meals, and offer tips and information on how you can shop and prepare food quickly and on a budget.

Anne Hytrek frequently shares her nutrition and health expertise with the Iowa Food & Family Project. She is instrumental in helping Iowans make fact-based decisions about food, wholesome diets and healthy living. As a 'farm girl' from north central Iowa, she grew up learning the value of raising livestock and bringing foods from their farm to the family's table.



1 (1-lb) pkg 80% lean ground beef

2 teaspoons Hy-Vee salt, divided

1 teaspoon Hy-Vee ground black pepper, divided

½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped

3 cloves minced garlic

2 tablespoons Hy-Vee tomato pate

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 (14-oz.) cans Gustare Vita diced tomato

2 tablespoons Hy-Vee salted butter

2 tablespoons Hy-Vee all-purpose flour

1 cup Hy-Vee whole milk

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

8 Hy-Vee oven-ready, no-boil lasagna noodles

2 (8-oz.) packages sliced Soiree fresh mozzarella cheese

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, plus additional leave for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook ground beef with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned, stirring occasionally to break into pieces. Transfer beef to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Reserve drippings in skillet.

Add onion and garlic to skillet; cook over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until softened. Stir in tomato paste, oregano, thyme and parsley; cook and stir for 1 minute. Stir in undrained tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil; return beef to saucepan. Remove from heat; set aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; whisk in flour. Cook and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes or until thickened. Slowly whisk in milk until smooth. Add remaining ½ teaspoon salt, remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Remove from heat.

Break 4 lasagna noodles into large pieces and place in bottom of a deep 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Layer with half each of the meat mixture, fresh mozzarella and sauce. Top with ½ cup basil. Repeat layers with remaining lasagna noodles, meat mixture, mozzarella, sauce and ½ cup basil.

Bake uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes or until noodles are tender and cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with additional basil, if desired.

Serves: 6

Recipe source: September 2021 Seasons magazine. Used with permission.

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.