Let’s face it. We all know that family meals are important, but these days it seems too many distractions are getting in the way of this important time of day. Swim lessons, art club, school meetings and work obligations are all putting the kybosh on our best efforts to eat dinner together. Compelling research indicates that when your family shares meals together your child is 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods and 12% less likely to be overweight (Hammons & Fiese, 2011).
What Are the Benefits of Shared Mealtimes?
- They create a sense of routine for children, which is important for their comfort and security. Kids know they can count on mealtimes to have your undivided attention, which in turn strengthens family bonds.
- Regular family meals are related to better adjustment in children and youth (Eisenberg et al., 2004).
- They promote healthy eating habits. Families that eat together are less likely to dine out (fried food and soda) and are more likely to serve fruits or vegetables and other healthy foods during dinnertime (Marino & Butkus, n.d.).
- Dining together aids in developing social skills in children and encourages better family communication all around.
- Teens who have frequent family dinners are 1-1/2 times likelier to report having an excellent relationship with their mothers and more than twice as likely to report having an excellent relationship with their fathers and sibling(s). They show greater academic achievement and have less delinquency. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, September 2011)
- Most studies have found that medium and high levels (three or more days per week) of frequent meals yield the most positive benefits for children.
How to Make Regular Mealtimes a Success
Have a look at your particular situation to see where you can make improvements. Make things easier by not enrolling your children or yourself in programs that run during the dinner hour. If dinner is too challenging because of extenuating circumstances, try for breakfast time or evening snacks instead.
- Set a goal for your family to have a certain number of meals together per week. Check out the 4-Week More Time Moms Family Meal Challenge.
- Mark designated family mealtimes on the calendar so your family is aware and can plan to be there.
- The key to successful family meals is to keep the emphasis on family and not on the food you are serving. No one will care if you’re having grilled cheese and soup when everyone is having fun and connecting.
- Family members can take turns choosing a favourite food or meal to be served. This helps children look forward to dinnertime.
- Involve children in food prep, setting the table, serving and clearing. This shows them that the family is a team and everyone works together at mealtimes.
- Turn off all distractions such as phones, electronic devices, televisions and even music. Focus entirely on each other and keep conversation light and fun. Avoid negative talk and business matters.
You Can Do It
Perhaps you had a regular mealtime routine that simply got off track, or maybe you’re new to the whole family meal thing, but regardless, it’s really quite simple when you put your mind to it. Start small if you are just introducing the idea, stick with it until it becomes routine, and watch how quickly it slows down the pace of your household and brings your family closer together.
By Kristen Wint