Work, soccer practice, dance class, homework… has anyone stopped to think about what’s for dinner? For many of us, our lives and schedules are so jam-packed it’s difficult to even fathom making dinner and sitting down to eat with our families. Unfortunately, this is a growing trend in our society, and the “family meal” is close to becoming prehistoric.
Some people may wonder, “What’s the big deal with the family meal?” Well, I’m here to tell you…plenty. Research has shown there are many benefits to sitting down together as a family and sharing a meal. For one, your children are more likely to eat nutritional, well-balanced meals — including more vegetables — than those who forgo the family meal. Family meals create opportunities to expose children to a variety of different foods, and to introduce “new” foods as well.
Another advantage to the family meal is that you get to control the portions and what foods your children are putting in their mouths. Yes, eating out at restaurants or going to the fast food drive-thru is convenient, but you’re likely to consume double the amount of fat and calories than if you’d opted for a homemade meal. Eating out can also get expensive — yet another reason to eat at home and save a few bucks.
Family meal times allow children to connect with their parents and share about their days. Studies have shown that children who frequently eat with their families are more likely to share personal experiences and less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors. Children who participate in family meals are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, delay onset of sexual intercourse, and are less likely to smoke cigarettes.
Studies have also shown that children who ate with their families more than three times a week got better grades in school and were more likely to participate in school activities and sports than those who didn’t. Those children also reported having emotionally satisfying relationships — not only with their parents, but with their peers as well.
Making time for family meals is not only beneficial for your children, but for you as well. Life is so fast-paced these days that it can be difficult to connect with our children. Call me old-fashioned, but communicating via text messages, cell phones, or emails just doesn’t have the same effect as in person, one-on-one conversations.
Life gets hectic, and sitting down together as a family to eat probably isn’t going to happen every night. My advice is try and set aside two nights a week to have “family dinner.” If every once in awhile that dinner consists of Boston Market or Chinese takeout, that’s fine. Just try your best to order healthy, nutritional meals, and to bring them home to eat at your table as a family.
Here are a few links (for the more adventurous) with healthy, quick-and-easy recipes to help you get cooking for your family:
Katie LaMendola, a former Kids Plus Provider, is a Family Nurse Practitioner.