Gathering around a table and eating as a family has many benefits to health and well-being. Children of families who often eat together tend to eat a wider variety of foods, have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and have a healthy weight but family meals aren’t simply about better nutrition.
Sitting around the table to eat as a family has all kinds of additional benefits. Eating together allows adults and older children to be role models who create a supportive environment that promotes healthy eating and good relationships. In fact children who regularly eat with their parents tend to be closer to their parents than other children. Children are also less likely to have behavior problems or use drugs, cigarettes or alcohol when they grow up.
Here are some tips for happy family mealtimes
Keep it simple: Keep a look out for quick, easy and nutritious recipes. Think about healthy eating and how to create a balanced meal. Don’t choose complicated recipes on weekdays as cooking the family meal will become a chore. Aim to be in and out of the kitchen within 30 minutes.
Make it a habit: Make sure everyone knows what time to be home and what time supper will be. People can plan their schedule around this important time, and over time it becomes routine.
Involve the children: Children love to get involved, so put them to work! Even young children can help such as washing potatoes or carrots, choosing the veggies, carrying the bag of pasta etc. Older children may help with peeling or chopping. Teens love the independence they have when shopping for groceries. Hand them some money and a grocery list of any additional items you need for dinner.
Save time: Try to wash all your veggies when you get home from the store to save time later in the week.
Cook in bulk: Cook more food than you need so you have leftovers for another day. A chicken and tomato pasta bake, enchiladas, meat (or veggie) sauce or cook 6 pieces of chicken instead of 3.
Don’t waste leftovers: Eat leftovers another day or for lunch to save money. Leftovers can be turned into soups for a different taste
Avoid takeout: Whilst the occasional takeout is no big deal, eating takeout regularly (for lunch or supper) can greatly increase the amount of sodium, unhealthy fats and sugar that your family consume. Plus the cost of takeout will quickly add up…. And home cooked meals are usually tastier!
Use your helpers!: Have the rest of the family help set the table or get everyone a (healthy) drink. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it is an important life skill. Children will learn that taking the time and effort to eat together as a family is important. Little kids can practice counting skills by getting the correct number of forks and napkins for the table.
Drink water: Try to put a jug of water on the table to keep everyone hydrated. Plus there is some evidence that children who drink extra water perform better in attention and memory tests!
Turn off the devices: Turn off TVs and phones so you can all focus on the meal and family time. Ideally sit at the table, but this may not be possible in your house. The key is to sit together, without distractions.
Talk!: Children like to tell you all about their day, what their teachers said, what their friends did. They like to hear about you too! Try to involve everyone in conversations by asking each person to share something that happened that day or week that was funny, sad, weird, scary, good, bad or kind.
Make it fun: Try some different food themes e.g. Mystery Mondays – pick a nation!, Taco Tuesdays, Wacky Wednesdays – throw a blanket on the living room floor and have a picnic, Throwback Thursdays – all the leftovers from earlier in the week, Fish on Fridays… you get the idea! Let everyone choose a theme and you’ll see that your choices are endless.
Make the commitment to eating at least one meal together each week. It doesn’t matter which day. Many families look forward to and love their family dinner traditions. Before you know it, family dinner will be a time that everyone looks forward to. Eating together can help encourage children to try new foods and make it a pleasurable experience for the whole family.
If you are concerned about your or your child’s nutritional health and feel you would benefit from support from a Registered Dietitian please contact us at Island Nutrition on 295-4082 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.