Family Meal Deal: Eating With Kids, Bonding for Life
By Sara Butler
We’re heading into October and you know what that means -- it’s National Eat Better, Eat Together month! It’s also National Cheese Month and National Sarcasm Month; do with those what you will, but there’s no time like the present to commit to healthier meals together with your family than the month of October.
Here are a few reasons why eating together is so important for families and a few tips to help you pull off this sometimes challenging feat, especially with pre-teens and teens who would rather observe National Sarcasm Month.
Sitting down for a meal together at least once per day helps to strengthen family bonds. That’s because it carves time out of the day for everyone to be together without distractions. For little kids, family meals help them to grow their feelings of belonging and also helps to foster their sense of security in the family unit. For older kids and teens, you may be surprised to learn that a study from Columbia University found that most teens actually like spending time with the family at dinner. Do it, no matter how many eye rolls you encounter, and know that deep down inside somewhere, your kids are loving every minute of it. Plus, when Mom pushes Lima Bean Fridays, everyone can bond over how much they hate them.
Speaking of Lima Bean Fridays, family dinners are an excellent opportunity to expose kids to new foods. Studies have shown that the more children are exposed to different and healthier foods, the more willing they are to try it and actually develop a taste for it. They may not grow up loving lima beans, but they can grow up with at least a curiosity about new foods -- all because you took the time to eat together.
It’s been established that children who eat dinner with their families eat more fruits and vegetables than children who don’t eat dinner with the family. They’re less likely to consume unhealthy foods, such as fried food and soda, too. This is due, in part, to the fact that sitting down to dinner together allows time to discuss healthy eating and nutrition. When else can you corner your children to talk about healthy ways to eat if not at the dinner table?
There’s also evidence that suggests that sitting down at the table with the homemade meal also helps to promote healthy portion control for kids. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, restaurant meals have 60 percent more calories than meals at home. Add in that the portions at restaurants are massive compared to what you eat at home and you can begin to see how kids may lack the understanding of what a true portion of food is. Sitting down together and hashing out the corned beef hash is the perfect way to teach them.
How to Make It Happen
Life is busy. Between Cub Scouts, sports, school, and work, making time to cook a meal -- much less enjoy it together -- can be a challenge. Luckily, there are some easy tips that can help. In order to promote family mealtime, you should:
- Aim for one meal - You don’t have to eat every single meal together to reap the benefits of eating together. Instead, have just one meal together as a family each day.
- Prep - Meal prep is another way to make family meals happen. Organize your meals on your day off and try to prep as many components ahead of time as you can. Don’t be afraid to use healthy shortcuts such as using frozen vegetables or cooking in big batches, either.
- Involve everyone - Make dinner prep something everyone contributes to. Have one person set the table while another helps to cook. Make sure there is a task everyone can help with, no matter how old they are. And don’t forget to make someone load the dishwasher after it’s all over!
- Don’t cook - Who says that something has to be cooked every single day? If you want to have a no-bake night, then have a day in which you eat things that don’t need to be cooked. Vegetables, fruit, nut butter, whole grain bread and crackers, and cheese can be just as filling as that beef bourguignon that you make from Julia Child’s cookbook -- but much faster!
As with most things when it comes to raising kids, you’re just doing the best you can. But if you can encourage deeper bonds and healthy eating, then eating together is certainly something for you to focus your energy on. And remember, no matter how many complaints you hear, it’s better for them in the long run!
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