We all have busy schedules, especially this time of year with school, extracurricular activities, work, football weekends, housework…it never ends. The number one reason (excuse) I hear for not having time to cook a healthy meal or fit in exercise is “I don’t have time.” Believe me, you can find time – and you should!
Not only are parents in need of physical activity and healthy meals, it is vital for our children to be healthy happy kids. Today’s youth are the most inactive generation in history and only one-third of teens get the recommended amount of daily exercise. But getting healthy doesn’t have to feel like punishment. Make time for a healthy Family Fun Night! Similar to a monthly (or better yet, weekly) game night, the entire family gets together for fitness, food, and fun. My favorite version of this is to go with a funky retro 80’s theme!
Start by setting the stage. Whatever day of the week you choose, make it amusing and memorable. Advertise early. Hint: Manic Monday, Tubular Tuesday, Way-back Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, Flashback Friday, or Wacky Weekender. Next, you have to look the part. Pull out grunge band t-shirts and leotards or leg-warmers, put hair up in a side ponytail or spiked mohawk, and add colorful makeup or face paint. Finally, set the music to all your favorite 80’s hits!
Once the entire family is dressed and ready, no one will be singled-out or embarrassed because you’ll be silly together. Head to the kitchen and get dinner started. I suggest going with a retro meal to stick with the theme, but put a healthy spin on it. My healthy tuna casserole recipe below is super delicious and nutritious! If you are rushed for time, you can do most of the prep work ahead of time then finalize and bake on Family Fun Night. Make sure every family member gets in the kitchen. No matter their age, everyone can participate. Even if they’re too young for knives or stoves, they can help count, measure, stir, sprinkle breadcrumbs or cheese, and even use kid-safe scissors to cut herbs.
When you put the casserole in the oven, you’ll have 25 minutes for some serious family fun and funk! Turn up the 80’s tunes and dance! Make sure to move fast and furious – think MC Hammer, Running Man, Love Shack, Footloose. You can throw in some Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons moves. Kids can count how many reps are being done while cheering on each family member. It will build bonds and healthy bodies! Plus they will learn math and communication skills without even realizing it!
When the 25 minutes is up, head to the kitchen, take the casserole out of the oven and eat as a family at the table. When kids take part and have ownership, they are more likely to eat a healthful meal. Plus, when you cook at home, you control the quality of ingredients your family eats.
I encourage you to get funky, stay healthy, and enjoy a weekly Family Fun Night!
1 T extra virgin olive oil
½ cup diced onion
1½ cups diced carrots
1 (10-ounce) container fresh button mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups skim or lowfat milk
1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ pound whole-grain bite-size pasta (like shells or elbow), cooked one minute less than package directions
1½ cups frozen peas
24 oz chunk light tuna (in pouches)
2 cups whole grain bread crumbs (freeze unused stale bread, pull out when you need bread crumbs, this is about 8 slices pulsed in food processor)
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and carrots, cook 5-6 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms soften, additional 5-6 minutes. Add flour all at once and stir immediately and vigorously with a wooden spoon until flour is completely incorporated into vegetable mixture and there are no lumps. Add milk, broth, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring, until liquid has thickened and reduced, 7-8 minutes. Combine cooked pasta, vegetable-liquid mixture, peas and tuna and toss to incorporate. Pour into a 9×13-inch casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
*Note: you can prepare up to this point and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze up to six months. When ready to eat, top with bread crumbs.
Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, or until crumbs are toasted. Serve with fresh parsley and sprinkling of parmesan cheese. This makes 8 servings. Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week.