We’ve heard how important it is to eat meals together as a family. When families eat together, kids are more likely to eat healthier meals and get better grades in school. In addition to that, they are less likely to become overweight or obese and also less likely to try drinking alcohol or using drugs.

However, with schedules as busy as ever, fitting in family meals can be a difficult task. The Family Dinner Project says the perfect recipe for this is to “Make The Commitment, Make It Simple, Make It Fun and Make It Matter.” Using that recipe, try these simple strategies to make a habit out of sitting around the dinner table:

Make The Commitment – Put your family first.

1. Take a break from the rest of the world and focus on your family during meals. Turn off technology such as cell phones, television and emails.

2. Be flexible: Things come up – pack a picnic and eat on the go, or stretch your meal out by having dinner with one parent and dessert with the other.

3. Remember family meals can be any meal. If supper will be spent running, have a family breakfast that day.

Make It Simple – Don’t make a family meal into more work than it needs to be.

1. Pre-make meals. Cook double batches and freeze one for later use.

2. Have everyone help. Get meals done faster and let kids have fun (plus they will be more likely to eat what they prepare).

3. Plan ahead! A flexible weekly menu planner can go a long way, to ensure you have everything on hand and ready to go. Tip: Have each family member come up with one meal for the week to make this an easier process.

Make It Fun – Before you know it everyone will be looking forward to the family meal of the day.

1. Create meals based on favorite books.

2. Compete in a family version of Iron Chef. Let the kids help choose ingredients and develop a menu around them.

3. Play games to get everyone talking and enjoying their meal.

Make It Matter – The table is one of the few places where families have consistent conversations.

1. Ask open-ended questions so they can talk about various topics.

2. Invest in Chatmats (placemats that feed mealtime conversation).

3. Discuss at least one thing that happened in everyone’s day.

4. Remember to keep conversations positive and give everyone a chance to speak.

For more fun meal ideas, conversation starters and other ideas to help you make family meals the norm at your house, check out www.thefamilydinnerproject.org. For something new, try these parmesan-crusted chicken tenders at your next family meal.

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Tenders

Servings: 4.

All you need:

• Canola or olive oil cooking spray

• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

• 2 large eggs

• 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

• 1 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat

• 1 pound fresh chicken tenders

• 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

• 1 teaspoon garlic powder

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 1 cup marinara sauce, heated

All you do:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a large wire rack on a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray.

2. Place flour in a shallow dish. Lightly beat eggs in another shallow dish. Combine parmesan and breadcrumbs in a third shallow dish. Toss tenders with Italian seasoning, garlic powder and salt in a medium bowl. Coat each tender in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip in egg and let any excess drip off. Then roll in the breadcrumb mixture. Place the tenders on the prepared rack. Generously coat the top of each tender with cooking spray.

3. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn each tender over and coat with cooking spray. Continue baking until the outside is crisp and the tenders are cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Serve the tenders with marinara sauce for dipping.

Nutrition facts per serving: 293 calories; 8g fat (3g sat, 2g mono); 140mg cholesterol; 22g carbohydrate; 0g added sugars; 31g protein; 3g fiber; 603mg sodium; 465mg potassium.

Source: adapted from Eating Well, Inc.

Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at tshaffer@hy-vee.com.