Create Nourishing Traditions With These 4 Easy, Healthy Meals you Can Make Together
Many cultures around the world view food, and the preparing of meals, as a gift to others. Cultivating family traditions in the kitchen can be an experience that gives you and your loved ones education, insight, and fulfillment.
Full calendars and fast-paced lifestyles are allowed to halt when everyone steps into the kitchen. The simple act of preparing and enjoying nourishing meals together has the seemingly magical ability to foster connection, promote well-being, and create lasting memories.
Family meals are important, according to science
The meals you prepare will not only provide many essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals but also provide the sustainable energy we need to face those full calendar days and check off our to-do lists.
Research scientists have focused attention on the family meal for quite some time, conducting many studies and reviews. The findings all show that sitting down together as a family regularly has significant benefits for the health and mood of the entire family. Eating together can not only encourage everyone to develop healthier eating habits but can also help support a healthy mood for children and parents alike.1,2 Plus, in a recent survey, many families said they are less stressed when holding regular meals together at the family table.3
5 tips to start the culinary imagination flowing
Unless you and your family are able to dive right into cooking, we have 5 tips to help you start up your meal creation. Cooking is important, but the planning, researching, and atmosphere also add to the fun and celebration.
1. Plan the Menu Together
Planning beforehand makes shopping and cooking infinitely smoother, ensuring that everyone knows what is being cooked for the day, and you have everything to hand for the recipe. Sit down weekly (or monthly) to plan out menus for whichever meals you’re going to prepare together. From your menu, you can easily create your weekly shopping list and head to the store together, or assign this task to different family members on a round-robin basis.
2. Try Something New
Don't be afraid to cook out of your comfort zone and try new recipes that you've never made before. Using new ingredients and perfecting new techniques can help everyone learn and grow in the kitchen. Focusing on new recipes every now and then is a great way to boost creativity. Plus, you never know, you may discover a new favorite meal.
3. Create Some Atmosphere
Much can be said for creating the appropriate atmosphere for the prep as well as the serving. Put together a few playlists for the food prep and dining phases. Music can amp up the fun and excitement, stir conversation, and possibly a little dancing.
If the occasion calls for it, pull out the good china, crystal, and silver. Or even if the occasion doesn’t call for it. How often does the good stuff get pulled out every year? Probably not enough. Light a few candles, or invest in some LED candles, which glow just as nicely as the real thing. Small touches like this can make this family experience more special.
4. Focus on Healthy Ingredients
Choose fresh, whole foods, and avoid processed ingredients as much as possible. You can also experiment with different herbs and spices to add flavor without relying on heavier toppings. Focusing on healthy ingredients ensures that every member of the family has nourishment enough to support a healthy body, mind, and microbiome.
5. Enjoy Being Together
The best part of cooking a meal with your family is being able to enjoy it together! Take the time to savor every bite and have a conversation about your day, your plans, and even your future goals and dreams. By taking these moments to enjoy each other's company and nourishing your bodies with a healthy meal, you will be strengthening your relationship and promoting a healthier lifestyle for everyone.
Just in case you need a jump start for recipe ideas
Coming up with recipes to satisfy everyone, not only in taste but in nutrition (and everyone’s Viome Superfoods), we’ve provided you with four easy, quick-start meals that offer flexibility with ingredients without sacrificing any deliciousness. These recipes provide four servings but are easily scaled to include more family members.
When putting together your weekly menus, simply select the ingredients that will be the best for everyone in your family then get cooking!
Asian Stir Fry (4 servings)
Stir frying a wok full of veggies to give them a good sear, but not make them mushy creates a beautiful and very healthy dinner for all. Mix and match each part of the “matrix” to match your Superfoods and preferences.
Aromatics–chopped scallions, minced garlic, and minced ginger will create the base of your stir fry and add a delicious fragrance to the whole dish. You can also throw in a sliced or chopped hot chili pepper. If you’re adventurous with levels of spice, the ghost pepper, Kashmiri chili, and Aleppo peppers are all excellent options. You can also keep things milder with a jalapeno or banana pepper. Leave the seeds in for more heat, and remove the seeds and white membranes to reduce the spice a little.
Vegetables–choose any you like, about 4-5 cups total. Carrots, onions, zucchini, snow peas, bell peppers, corn, water chestnuts, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, or any other crunchy vegetables or squashes will work well.
Proteins–about 1.5 lb. total, choose one, a combination, or keep it veggie-only and increase your vegetables by one cup. Chicken, shrimp, tofu, tempeh, and lean beef, are all great choices.
Oils & Sauces–you’ll need about 1 - 2 Tbsp. oil to cook your veggies and protein. Use sauces as condiments. You’ll need an oil with a high smoke point like peanut oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil, sunflower oil, or grapeseed oil. A dash or two of sesame oil, soy sauce (regular or gluten-free), coconut amino acids, sriracha, Sambal Olek (garlic chili sauce), or Chinese rice wine after cooking is finished can add another layer to your flavor profile.
Grains–about 2-3 cups, cooked. Rice and other grains are traditionally served with stir fry but feel free to omit them if you are keeping to a low-carb lifestyle. All types of rice, including brown, white, wild, and mixed, are great choices. Quinoa can also make a great side or any other whole grain that you like to use.
Nuts & Seeds–many traditional Asian dishes include nuts and seeds as part of the recipe. If you have family members that are sensitive, you can keep them to the side and use them as a condiment, or omit them altogether. Sesame seeds, cashews, and peanuts are all excellent selections to add a nutty crunch to your dish.
Begin by getting your large wok, large frying pan, or cast iron skillet very hot, with no oil. Use caution around your hot pan. Add in your oil of choice (just be sure it’s a high smoke point oil that will not burn before getting hot enough) and swirl to coat the pan.
Add any aromatics that you’re using, and swirl in the oil until they sizzle and pop, about a minute.
Add in your protein, if you are using, in a single layer and leave for a few minutes to brown. Once it’s fully cooked, remove it from the pan to a plate, add more oil if needed, and let it heat up to high heat.
Once your pan is again very hot, add in your longer-cooking vegetables that need more time, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. Cook until seared and just tender, not mushy. Continue with your quicker-cooking vegetables like onions, zucchini, and bell peppers. Toss and stir them in the hot pan until they are warm, but their vibrancy is preserved. You want your veggies to be still very slightly crunchy, yet cooked.
Add back in your protein and combine. If you are adding any other sauces, nuts, or seeds, this is the time to do it in the pan.
You’re ready to enjoy, with or without a warm bowl of rice or grain.
Creating your own tacos with exactly the toppings you want is extremely satisfying. You can keep it traditional or go out of the box a little with adventurous ingredients.
Protein or Main Ingredient–this can be anything you like: grilled chicken, ground turkey, ground plant-based beef, seared shrimp or fish (cod is a good choice), pulled pork, tofu, or flat-iron steak. You can also keep it strictly vegetarian with potatoes or black beans. Choose one or a variety of main ingredients to satisfy your whole crew.
Cheese–traditional taco cheeses are usually white cheeses called cotija and queso fresco, which crumble much like feta cheese. But anything goes with cheese. You can stick to plain shredded cheddar, or a Mexican blend, or try mozzarella, manchego, or pepper jack.
Veggies–you can keep your taco veggies at shredded iceberg, chopped onions, and diced tomatoes and have an excellent taco. But you can also color outside the lines a bit and experiment with sauteed onions and peppers or chilis, or even add a little diced zucchini to the saute.
Of course, beans are always welcome in or on the side of tacos. Pinto and black beans naturally complement your meal. Try to stay away from canned beans or refried beans if possible, as they can have a lot of added salt and fat. Check your Nutrition Facts label for information.
Plain iceberg is a staple of tacos, but you can experiment with this as well. Arugula, frisee, radicchio, or even spinach can go on top of your tacos. If you’re going “shell-less,” whole leaves of romaine or butter lettuce can serve as your tortilla for your taco.
Other Toppings–Avocado slices, guacamole, sour cream, or crema Mexicana, as well as pico de gallo, salsa, and hot sauces like Tapatio or Cholula are all welcome on the top of tacos, individual tastes may vary. If you are using jarred salsa, be aware of added sugars, sodium, and other additives. Many stores carry freshly made salsa or pico available for pickup in the refrigerated section, which may have no additives. Or, make your own!
Tortillas or Shells–hard, or soft? Flour or corn? It’s your choice, you can have both if you like for variety. Gluten-free varieties of flour tortillas are available at most stores. Check your ingredients lists on your flour and corn tortillas for added items you don’t want to eat. High-quality, fresh tortillas will have fewer ingredients on their Nutrition Facts label. Time permitting, your family can make up a large batch of homemade tortillas and freeze them for future use.
Prepare your protein or main ingredients as needed. Pan-sear or saute your chicken, steak, fish, tofu or shrimp. Brown your ground meats, adding in some homemade taco seasoning -
1 ½ Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp each cumin and black pepper
¼ tsp each salt (sea or Himalayan), paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano
While cooking the main ingredients, slice, dice, and chop up your fresh ingredients. Mix up your guacamole if using. Set up a line of the fresh ingredients, cheese, salsas, and other toppings in separate bowls on a counter for easy assembly.
Warm your tortillas or taco shells, and bring them to the assembly line along with your cooked main ingredient.
You’re ready for everyone to line up with their plates and put together their personal version of the perfect taco. Enjoy!
If you have the right pizza crust (whether it be homemade, gluten-free, cauliflower, or any other), you can pile it with pretty nearly any ingredient you like, and you’ll get a fantastic pizza. Homemade crust is best because you know exactly what is in it. Pizza dough is very simple to make and is a perfect excuse to let your fingers squish and knead.
Simple Pizza Crust:
⅔ cup slightly warm water
1 tsp “instant” or “rapid rise” yeast
2 tsp salt
½ tsp granulated sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (or bread flour, or gluten-free flour - note that GF flour will be less stretchy dough, and you should press the dough into a circle rather than use a rolling pin)
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for bowl
Place the salt, sugar, yeast, and 1 cup of the flour into a large bowl. Use a fork or whisk to combine.
Add the olive oil and water. Mix until sticky and combined.
Flour your work surface and your hands. Pour the dough onto the flour and knead, rotating it and adding in a little more flour occasionally until fully mixed. Continue kneading and form a ball. The dough should no longer be sticky.
Coat the inside of a clean bowl with olive oil, and place your dough inside. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for at least 2 hours or more. If it’s cool in your house, your unheated oven with the light on is a good place for rising.
Roll your dough out into a round shape on a floured surface. If you are making one pizza, stretch your dough to at least 12 inches.
To make multiple pizzas, double (or triple) your ingredients and cut the dough into 4 equal portions. Each should stretch to about 6 inches for a personal pizza.
Top with your ingredients and bake on a pizza pan or a pizza stone at 450 degrees for about 18 minutes or until the edges of the crust are golden and the cheese is melted.
In an era where we have breakfast pizzas, BBQ chicken pizzas, BLT pizzas, salad pizzas… really anything goes!
Red tomato sauce
Roasted garlic cloves
Really Out of the Box
Roasted butternut squash
Roasted sweet potatoes
Middle Eastern spiced lamb
Split up the duties: half of the family works on the dough, and half works on chopping up veggies, grating cheese, making tomato sauce, or roasting squash. Once everything is ready to go, roll and stretch your dough out into individual rounds and bake until crispy and bubbly. Manga!
Build Your Own Chili Bowl
Keeping the base of your chili simple allows everyone to dress it up the way they like. You can double or triple your recipe ingredients and freeze containers of it for 6 months. Pull a container out to thaw, and dinner is nearly done. This recipe serves 4-6.
1 lb. ground meat (chicken, turkey, lamb, chuck, plant-based, etc.)
1 white or yellow onion, diced (optional)
1 Tbsp avocado oil
2 ½ Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp honey (optional, but adds a slight sweetness and cuts the acidity of the tomatoes)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 ½ cups bone broth (or beef broth)
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (if omitting, add in one more can of tomatoes)
Note: Check your can labels to be sure there are no added sugars, excessive sodium, or any other additives you don’t want in your chili. Alternatively, you can add diced fresh tomatoes and make your own sauce and beans.
Add the oil to a large dutch oven and heat to medium-high. Sweat your onion until it’s translucent. Add in the ground meat and brown, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula.
Add your spices and stir to combine. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and sauce. Stir.
Bring just up to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer uncovered for about 20-30 minutes. The longer it simmers, the more chance the flavors have to meld.
Sour cream, crema Mexicana, or Greek yogurt
Hot sauces (Tabasco, Tapatio and Cholula are great options)
Baked tortilla chips (check your ingredients list and keep it simple)
Pico de gallo
Cubed, roasted butternut squash or sweet potato
There is no rule book here. Anything that is tasty on the top of your chili will do! Line up the bowls and fill to your heart’s content.
Sit down and enjoy together
Now that you have some easy, healthy meal ideas, it's time to get in the kitchen and start cooking! It may take a few attempts to get into the rhythm and perfect chopping and sauteing techniques. But soon enough, everyone may gravitate to their favorite tasks or find what they excel at.
Your new nourishing tradition of healthy, home-cooked meals combined with togetherness will benefit your entire family, body, mind, and soul. Good luck with making healthy eating a lifestyle–together.
1 Kathryn Walton, PhD, RD1; Nicholas J. Horton, ScD2; Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, MPH3; et al. (2018). JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(7):e185217. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5217
2 Harrison ME, Norris ML, Obeid N, Fu M, Weinstangel H, Sampson M. (2015). Can Fam Physician. 2015 Feb;61(2):e96-106. PMID: 25676655; PMCID: PMC4325878.
3 Survey, Newsroom, American Heart Association. (2022, Oct 10). Online at newsroom.heart.org/