Family mealtime is sometimes hard to make time for, but let’s consider the statistics…
With family mealtimes, your child may be…
-35% less likely to engage in disordered eating
-24% more likely to eat healthier foods
-12% less likely to be overweight
In days of sporting events, chores, late work hours and other events, how is eating as a family possible?
Start with a goal of eating together three times per week. Three times out of a potential 21 meals! Remember, the meals do not need to be all dinners; throw in some breakfasts and lunches. Time together in family meals have shown to promote many benefits. The meals shared do not need to be gourmet meals. The goal is to come together as a family – to share life stories and events.
The focus on family meals is not intended to cause increased stress for meal preparation. Enlist the help of younger family members in setting the table, making a quick salad, or pouring the milk. Family has many definitions – it can be a husband and wife, a single parent and one child, or a mom and dad with 4 children; it may include grandparents. The key is to include everyone at the dinner table.
Here are some tips to help you get started!
- Set a goal. Three a week, perhaps? Build from there.
- Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, like chili or a favorite casserole.
- Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Get the family involved. Let kids help prepare meals and set the table.
- Use the crock pot. Put everything together in the evening before bed or before leaving for work in the morning. You’ll come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal. Add milk and a fresh salad and you’ll have a delicious meal!
- Make it enjoyable. Leave the serious discussions for another time. Family meals are for nourishment, comfort, and support.
- Set the mood. Here’s another hint — no TV allowed, no cell phones answered! This is time for listening to each other, sharing the day’s stories, and nurturing the family connection.
Not sure what to make for the meal?
Consider quickly prepared home meals using fresh ingredients, including fruits and vegetables. Consider everyone’s favorite meals – tacos, home-made soup, hamburgers, or possibly egg bakes.
You can also search the internet or Pinterest for quickly prepared foods. The website – thefamilydinnerproject.org/food includes choices for one-pot wonders, using what you’ve got, and comfort foods. A variety of recipes which may hit the culinary taste buds of your family.
Kidseatright.org, a website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has many recipes that are quick, nutritious, and inexpensive to prepare. A recipe from this website can be found at the end of this blog following the resources.
Dinner Conversations – Not sure what to talk about?
There are many resources on the Internet for questions to ask at the dinner table based on the age of the family members. Keep the conversation positive, everyone involved and non-judgmental. Here are some ideas for conversation starters based on the ages:
- Ages 2-7: Name three things that are fun for you. What is your favorite summer food to eat?
- Ages 8-13: What’s the funniest or strangest thing that happened to you today? What are you most looking forward to about a new school year (or fall)? Who is the most patient person you know? How can you tell they are patient?
- Ages 14-100: What was the best year of your life so far? Explain. Who is/was your favorite teacher? Why?
Benefits of a family meal are many – everyone eats healthier, less obesity and overweight family members, and a communication bond is fostered among the family members.
Feeling lost? Here are some resources to help with family meals.
(Source: Hammons & Fiese, 2011)
Joan Bahr, MS is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Southwest Health in Platteville. Joan works with families to help them make food choices that will positively impact their health for years to come. Joan is a Lafayette County Farm Bureau member where she and her husband also raise grain and cattle. Between them, they have three children and seven grandchildren. Joan is also an avid half-marathon walker. She can be reached at Southwest Health 608.342.5025 or at Epione Pavilion 608.744.3966.