When was the last time your family enjoyed a meal together?
With hectic work schedules, extracurricular activities, and heavy homework loads, it can be next to impossible to get everyone at the dinner table at the same time.
Unfortunately, these days, many families are missing out on amazing benefits that meals eaten together offer families. Consider just a few of these:
1. Families that eat together, stay together. Meal-time conversations are a great opportunity to connect, to strengthen the bonds, and to learn from each other. Parents can be more aware of their child's needs and mates can be better aware of each other's needs. 2
2. A family mealtime is a great opportunity to model what healthy eating habits are like for children. This goes beyond social skills and table manners. It includes nutritionally important behaviors like choosing vegetables, consuming proper portion sizes, or even basic cooking techniques. Children also learn to have a healthy relationship with food when meals and meal times are structured and positive, thus decreasing the risk of disordered eating.
3. When it comes to toddlers and younger children, it can be hard to introduce new foods into their diet. Picky-eaters are very common this age. A family mealtime is a perfect time to encourage your child to expand his or her food horizons. Of course, this doesn't mean the child should be forced or bribed into eating the new food. It may take as many as 8-10 stress-free exposures for the child to accept the new food. Seeing others eat it and enjoy it at the table can definitely help this process.
This becomes especially efficient when the meal isn't only eaten together but also prepared for together. Also, including the child in selecting foods at the market can increase the likelihood of his accepting the food and introducing it into his diet.
4. Homemade meals are healthier (and, lets face it, cheaper)! At least, they have the potential to be. They usually contain less fried foods, less salt, less sugar, less fat. Also, research shows that those who frequently consume family meals consume more fruits, veggies, whole grains, fiber, key nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamins. 1
After considering some of these benefits, you may be thinking "you don't need to convince me!" Most of us are aware of the benefits but find so many barriers along the way. How can you break down some of those barriers? - Use shortcut ingredients so that you don't have to prepare everything from scratch. This includes frozen or canned veggies or canned beans. Keep a list handy with all the last-minute meals your family enjoys.
- Use a crockpot or slow-cooker early in the day so that you can have recipes ready by the time everyone is ready to eat. Another timesaver is a pressure cooker or freezing meals and leftovers to be simply thawed and reheated for a family meal.
- Cook extra servings of foods to provide purposeful leftovers. For example, instead of roasting 4 chicken breasts, roast 8 and use the extra 4 for a dinner chicken salad the next day.
1. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014;46(1):2-19.
2. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The Importance of Family Dinners V111: a CASAColumbia white paper. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-research/reports/importance-of-family-dinners-2012. Published September 2012.