Chow Line: Simple Suppers Make Mealtimes Fun and Easy for Families, Kids

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I’m a mom of twin preschoolers and want to make sure that I teach them healthy eating habits at an early age. How I can do that and stay within a modest food budget?

It’s wonderful that you want to establish healthy eating habits in your children starting when they are young. Research has shown that ensuring good nutritional habits, particularly early on, can help prevent childhood obesity and other chronic diseases.

In addition to having a healthy weight, establishing healthy eating habits in children can help them have more energy and happier moods, and also can help them have those habits for the rest of their lives, experts say.

One way to help instill better eating habits in your children is to take advantage of great programs out there like Simple Suppers. The new free nutrition program created by researchers at The Ohio State University teaches families how to establish healthy eating behaviors without having to spend a lot of money at the grocery store.

The 10 lessons in the Simple Suppers program provide options that address both the benefits and constraints of healthy family mealtime routines.

The program utilizes balanced meals with low-cost ingredients that are easily attainable by families and encourages children to be involved in food and meal preparation with their families, said Carolyn Gunther, an associate professor of human sciences and state specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

While some of the program’s curriculum is available online, OSU Extension educators will soon begin offering in-person classes for families across Ohio, she said. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State (CFAES).

The program focuses on establishing healthy family mealtime routines for improved diet and weight status, Gunther said.

“Family meals can be a good way to help kids have better eating habits,” she said. “The lessons covered in the program teach families how to manage their resources when planning and preparing meals using budget- and time-saving strategies, how to compare various food options and sizes for meals, and how to get everyone involved in establishing healthy family mealtime routines.”

The Simple Suppers lesson plans cover the following topics:

  • Making family mealtime fun
  • Planning family meals on a budget
  • Timesaving strategies for family meals
  • Connecting with children through meals
  • Planning well-balanced family meals
  • Rethinking your drink
  • Making healthy cooking tasty and easy
  • Serving and eating healthy portions
  • Eating healthy away from home
  • Planning fun and healthy snacks

The program is offered to the entire family, with each class directed to either children or adults.

For example, during lesson one, “Making family mealtime fun,” children get to decorate an apron and learn how to set a dinner table, while parents have discussions on the benefits of family meals and get tips on how to make the meals both nutritious and fun.

The Simple Suppers program also offers easy, low-cost, nutritious, family-friendly recipes, including:

  • Fruit and Yogurt-topped Whole Wheat Pancakes and Veggie Scrambled Eggs
  • Fiesta Skillet Dinner with Fresh Fruits and Veggies
  • Breakfast Burrito with Salsa and Baked Apple Wedges
  • Quick Skillet Lasagna with Fresh Veggies and Dip and Crunchy Frozen Bananas
  • Baked Potato Bar with Chicken Tortilla Soup and Fresh Vegetables and Orange Fluff Salad
  • Meatloaf Muffins with Twice-as-Nice Mashed Potatoes and Fruit Pudding
  • Garden Sloppy Joes with Cucumber Salad and Easy Fruit Salad
  • Scrambled Egg Muffins with Microwave-Roasted Potatoes and Crunchy Berry Parfaits 
  • Cheesy Crunchy Chicken Tenders with Applesauce and Glazed Carrots
  • Pizza Party Pizza with Tossed Salad and Berry-Good Banana Splits

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, state specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Carolyn Gunther
OSU Extension, Community Nutrition