By Adrian Kohrt
Eating family meals together with your children has great benefits. Many studies have shown that eating family meals together increases the amount of nutrition a child consumes, lowers the rate of obesity, increases self-esteem, lowers the rate of substance abuse and teen pregnancy, and improves school performance.
While we know these things to be true, it does not change the fact that we have very busy lives and it is difficult to carve time out to sit down and eat together as a family. The following are some suggestions on how to make family meals a priority.
Once a month or once a week, get out everyone’s calendar and make a date to have family dinner. Even if it is only once a week, it makes a difference. Let your children have a say on when your meals are going to take place. Be creative. If dinner won’t work, share breakfast together!
Share meal preparation with the whole family. When you are planning dates for your meals, plan the recipe also. Include your children in the process. Keep meals simple and nutritious so that you don’t have to spend as much time cooking and have more time to spend with your family.
If your family will not be eating at home, consider packing meals together with your children. This will allow your children to have some say in what they eat, and you have help in the preparation.
Conversation is key to having a successful family dinner. This allows the family to connect and share their lives with one another. It is important to listen to what your children have to say. This gives children time to relay what is going on in school and in their everyday lives. It is a good way to clue parents in on whether there are any problems. This is a great time to praise children for their successes, even if it is small things such as taking out the garbage or getting their homework turned in on time.
Conversation at the dinner table also helps to expand children’s vocabulary.
Family meals are a great time to teach by example. Important things that children learn from watching their parent’s examples are:
· Learn to eat a variety of healthy foods
· Teach healthy messages, such as positive body image
· Teach kids to eat slowly
· Model good table manners
· Teach children how to hold a polite conversation
Switch off TVs, cellphones and other electronics. These devices distract from the family and give children and adults an excuse not to pay attention to what is happening around them.
Make meal times family fun times. Use this as a time to play games together or return to your family roots and share stories about family history — even if the history is from your own childhood!
If you want more information on planning family meals, The Family Dinner Project website, www.thefamilydinnerproject.org, is recommended. It gives suggestions on simple recipes, conversation starters, games that you can play at the dinner table and much more.
Our lives are very busy and fitting in time for family meals can be time-consuming — cooking the meal, eating and cleaning up. It is much easier to eat fast food on the run between meetings and children’s events. With some creativity and planning ahead of time, family meals can become a regular part of your families’ lives. Even if you only eat together at the dinner table once a week, it is better than no time at all. Do what works best for you and your family. Make family meals a family event, something that your family looks forward to. You will all reap the benefits.
Adrian Kohrt is a family nutrition coordinator for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907)474-7930.