Updated: Jul 8
At the end of a good dinner body and soul both enjoy a remarkable sense of well-being.
Though written in the 19th century, this quote from a leading food essayist holds true today. Although we are all balancing a full plate of activities and tasks, dinner is important for our well-being. These days dinner can fall into several categories ranging from home-cooked, semi-homemade, carry-out or dine-in at a local fast-food site—the act of sharing a meal with family has tremendous benefits.
Between work, day care, and after school activities, parents and in some case grandparents are juggling to squeeze in daily tasks and get dinner on the table. If you can pull the meal together and round up the family for a traditional sit-down family meal it is a win-win for all and boost to family well-being.
Family meals help parents stay engaged with their children, help improve children’s eating habits, encourage children to communicate and provide a setting for parents to share family values and convey dinning manners. Though young people may not recognize it at the time, each of these benefits are big aids to the kids as they grow up.
Improving Eating Habits
Meals together give kids the chance to observe parents attitudes about food, portion size and healthy eating. Kids will model their behavior after the things they see parents do or say about food and healthy eating. Research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who ate family meals consumed more fruits, vegetables and fewer snack foods than children who ate separately from their families.
Sharing a meal is the perfect setting for conversation—this setting gives parents an opening to ask about their children’s day at school and brainstorm to help solve any challenge the kids may be facing. Shared meals can also work toward improving kids coping skills—particularly adolescents as who can gain insight from parents about how they handle issues that may arise during their workday.
Family Values and Manners
When the family sits down for a meal, as each member talks, kids have the opportunity to see and learn what is important in their family. For example, if activities at church take priority over watching sports on television, kids learn that participation in church programs, etc. are more important in their family.
Dinning together is a great opportunity to share good manners and information about table settings and eating utensils with children. This may not seem important immediately, but if you’ve ever shared a meal with someone who does not have good manners, you know manners do matter. Let’s face it people who have good manners are much more likely to get what they need or ask for.
It may be tough to dine together seven days a week; the following guidelines can be an aid in helping to adjust your schedules to add the family dinner.
My Top Tips Five for Family Dinners
1. Set goals. Share the plan with the family this will help in deciding on the best days each week for the family meals. Schedules may prevent the family from eating together very day, but aim for two nights a week and stick to the plan. As schedules change with the school year, raise the bar to three nights each week.
2. Make the family dinner a family activity. Get your partner and/or kids involved in planning meal saying what they want to eat. Before opening up the menu, set some guidelines as to what kind of foods you will allow and what kind you won’t allow. This help you avoid get rid of junk food on the menu. I recommend before you delve into planning meals as a family, you all set.
3. Let the Plate be Your Guide — Hot or cold, convenience or scratch, everyday foods or new and exotic — use MyPlate for planning healthy meals. Include foods from all the food groups, and choose a variety of foods from each group. A variety of foods prevents boredom and is the best way to ensure your family gets the 40+ nutrients they need each day.
4. Remember to stay flexible. Meal plans and menus, however great, are not set in stone. A posted menu plan promotes accountability, but family members will forgive you, as long as they get their postponed favorite a day or two later.
5. Make it a habit. The family dinner can become a habit just fastening your seat belt. After you’ve shared a few dinners, the family will see that a shared meal is a boost to everyone’s well-being.
Take Away: Bringing the family together for a shared meal is not hard. With a few schedule adjustments, and input from family members on the menu, it will be something the family looks forward to.
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