Years ago, family meals were the only meals–everyone ate together, talked together and enjoyed not only food, but also the support and socialization of sitting down together and sharing a meal. Today, family meals are more important than ever–and worth the effort!
Many factors have caused the shared meal to disappear from the family dinner table. But it’s not because children and teens are not interested, or parents either! Families say schedule conflicts are the problem–work, school and activities get in the way, and it seems there is just no time. Making time for family meals benefits children and adults alike.
Family meals tell much about the quality of family relationships. Children and teens who share meals with their parents have improved food habits. They tend to eat more fruits, vegetables and dairy foods, and less fried food and soft drinks at meals eaten with their families. The benefits don’t stop with young children. How often a family eats dinner together is a strong indicator of whether a teen is prone to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, or is likely to perform well in school. Family meals may also help protect adolescents from eating disorders. When eating becomes a social event, many positive things happen.
How do you begin? Talk over the idea of family meals with other adults in your home. Then bring the children on board with the idea. The keys are realistic expectations and consistency. One way is to turn off the TV. Remember, it’s not a member of the family! Let phone calls and text messages wait until later–make sharing the meal the priority.
Fixing meals together helps children learn cooking skills and appreciation of foods and family. Avoid too many rules for mealtime. Instead, try to model the actions and behaviors you would like children to show. What you eat and drink and your level of physical activity are important for your own health, and also for your children’s health. You can do a lot to help your children develop healthy habits for life by providing and eating nutritious meals and snacks. For example, don’t just tell your children to eat their vegetables–show them that you eat and enjoy vegetables everyday.
Before you and your family eat, think about what goes on your plates or in your cups or bowls. Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods contain the nutrients you need without too many calories. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Make at least half your grains whole grains. Vary your protein food choices. Choose foods and drinks with little or no added fat and sugar.
Eating together helps us eat better — at any age!
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