September is National Family Meals Month! Did you know that family meals not only satisfy hunger but also offer numerous psychological, developmental and nutritional benefits for children?
Research highlights the significance of regular family dinners at home, surpassing solo or TV-based meals. Children who consistently dine with their families demonstrate lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders. Furthermore, shared meals promote higher self-esteem, resilience, healthier eating habits, reduced obesity, and improved vocabulary skills because of conversations with adults.
The FMI Foundation, also known as the Family Meals Initiative, has recently launched a comprehensive repository of research covering a span of 35 years. This valuable resource highlights the numerous advantages of family meals, including their positive impact on fruit and vegetable consumption and family functioning. A noteworthy 2020 study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior is among the thousands of studies included. Check out their website to discover the empowering benefits of family meals!
While these benefits may seem obvious to those who have cherished regular family meals, the rarity of such occasions prompted this research. A lack of time is frequently cited as the main obstacle.
During National Family Meals Month, concerned parents can implement the following five tips to enjoy the advantages of shared mealtime. For further guidance on fostering family meals, visit The Family Dinner Project’s website.
Tip #1: Make the Effort
While the research shows the best results accrue to children who eat five or more meals a week with their families, even one meal a week is beneficial. And don’t limit yourself only to dinner. If your family can only spend time together as a whole at breakfast or lunch, focus on those meals.
Tip #2: Work Ahead—All of You
Time-crunched parents know that the longest block of time in the day can be the stretch from when they enter the house to when dinner begins, as kids (and spouses) whine, “When are we gonna eat?”
To shorten that interval, consider making meals on less busy weekend days and freezing them. Then reheat them after work. You can supplement the meals, or hasten prep time, by using pre-chopped vegetables and meat.
And don’t forget to have the kids help; time spent working together in a kitchen is a great way to catch up on each others’ days, and you may find you get more out of your teenager during work sessions than in face-to-face conversations. Same goes for cleaning up: make sure everybody has a job to do.
Tip #3: Say ‘No’ to the Screens
Sure, eating in front of the tube once in a while isn’t going to kill anybody or derail your children’s development. But researchers have found that meals eaten with a TV on don’t have the same benefits as those eaten without; something about the TV discourages deeper conversation and connection.
The same is true of small screens. Don’t let anybody, adults included, text or surf during dinner. Besides being rude, research supports that texting inhibits conversation, too. So here’s the deal: no TV, and no electronic devices.
Tip #4: Talk It Up
Meals are a great time to have some real conversations with your kids. Sure, you can go to the old standby “How was your day?” but anybody with a teenager knows the answer is likely to be the one-word conversations stopper: “Fine.”
You can use the foods you serve as a springboard to discussions about issues like the environment and the economy or other cultures—especially true if you sample global cuisines as part of your meals.
Tip #5: Don’t be Defeated by Picky Eaters
Some researchers suggest that kids may need to have new foods placed in front of them as many as 15 times before they’ll accept the food into their regular dietary lineup. And as most parents know, forcing a child to eat simply doesn’t work.
So try preparing a variety of foods and vegetables that people enjoy. Make sure everybody has at least one option they like and that go well with bases like bread, potatoes, salad or rice. They can add their chicken or shrimp to the rice, for example, and season as they see fit.