When something in an already jam-packed family schedule has to give, it’s easy to understand why family meals may be one of the first things to fall by the wayside!
And yet, family meals are not only a time for strengthening family bonds and keeping track of our kids’ lives, they actually lead to better physical and mental health for our children.
I am excited to share some of my thoughts about why family meals matter, as well as some strategies I have implemented in my own family to help your family get on track.
Parents Are the Best Role Models
Parents play a big role in shaping our children’s eating habits. When we eat a variety of foods that are healthful and wholesome, our kids learn to like these foods as well. Our own commitment to a healthy diet and eating habits encourages our children to recognize the importance of good nutrition.
For example, to get your kids more involved in family meal planning, review the weekly dinner menu with them and make suggestions together on the healthiest (and tastiest) choices.
Preparing meals at home gives us control over both the quality and quantity of food being consumed. We can help our children understand how to eat until they’re comfortably satisfied by letting them serve themselves as early as age five. Using “family style” serving bowls and spoons allows every member of the family to choose what they like best.
Unlike what our own parents may have taught us, try not to tell your kids they need to clean their plates before being dismissed from the table.
Instead tell your child to “tune in” to their sense of fullness and ask them how their tummies feel before and after eating a healthful meal.
Children in families that eat together typically consume less fast food, soft drinks, and fat-laden junk food.
Instead, consuming more fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, protein and a wider variety of foods helping to ensure they are getting the full spectrum of the good stuff in their diets.
Tips to Jump-Start Regular Family Meals
- Plan ahead for family meals just one or two times per week until everyone gets the hang of it.
- Focus on the meal of the day that actually works best for everyone. Who says it has to be dinner? Sometimes weekend breakfast or brunch makes the most sense because everyone is home and happy to be together.
- Share the duties of planning, shopping, cooking, and clean up. This is where all the fun takes place.
- Stay simple! Soups, salads and sandwiches can be the some of the easiest and most healthful family meals.
- Serve meals family style – big bowls, serving spoons, condiments – pass the dishes around the table and talk about the meal. Help little hands serve themselves.
- Encourage “No Thank You” bites to help little ones expand their palate, and try new things.
- Regardless of the meal, take time to sit down and really enjoy it with your family. Time spent at family meals will help your children form healthy attitudes about food and eating as well as create fond memories to last a lifetime.
- Create a custom family nutrition program to help navigate any food sensitivities in the family, or hone in on specific goals for both the group and individual members.