Real solutions for real families

by Karine Gale, RD

Planning to have quick meals on hand is easy!

Planning to have quick meals on hand is easy!

When my wonderful colleague Joyce, Canada Beef’s Culinary Manager, announced we were doing a cross promotion with General Mill’s Hamburger Helper, I thought: what a great opportunity to showcase that sometimes a little bit of convenience can help families in a big way towards the goal of better eating.  It couldn’t be more timely that the theme for Nutrition Month this year is “Plan Shop Cook Enjoy!”; encouraging families to get back to home cooking and eating together.

According to Dietitians of Canada, “Convenience is Key”.  But we know that already!  Canadian families say they have very little time to prepare meals as they try to balance work, play, school, and leisure time.1 So, more than ever, we’re challenged to look for creative ways to solve the dinner, and lunch, dilemma day-in and day-out.  It’s no wonder we’re relying increasingly on takeout and fast food2, and cooking skills appear to be in crisis.1

Welcome Hamburger Helper!  Dietitians can sometimes be a little snobbish about box foods, so there may be some that are surprised at my enthusiasm about this promotion.  The problem is that real families are in constant struggle with the dinner dilemma, and unless dietitians face up to this, we risk being irrelevant.  Hamburger Helper, and other products like it, can be wonderful platforms to launch some healthy habits:

  • the meal cooks up in a hurry thereby encouraging home cooking rather than going for take-out or the drive-through
  • instructions are simple enough that younger family members can participate in prep, helping to shape food skills and an enthusiasm for cooking
  • consider the product as a ‘starter’ from which to build a healthy meal around; it already calls for nutrient-rich ground beef, but no reason not to throw in frozen broccoli, add a salad or veggies and dip alongside it, or even sneak in some finely chopped spinach, ground flax or other nutrient extenders – no one will ever know 🙂
  • and the product tastes great, which makes everyone happy to sit at the dinner table together – really, could anything be more victorious than that?!

There is a growing body of evidence about the value of cooking at home and eating together.  When families cook and eat together good things happen.  It’s important to recognize that cooking may not always mean ‘from-scratch’.  And that’s ok.  We’re talking about real life here.  And we need real solutions!

Cabernet or Merlot?

1. Dietitians of Canada, Cook! (Robert Rose Publishing, 2011)

2. Slater J et al. The growing Canadian energy gap: more the can than the couch? Pub Health Nut 2009; 12(11):2216–2224.

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