Want to give your kids every opportunity to thrive and succeed? Try making time in your routine for family meals.
Was it truly just one generation ago that the majority of American families ate at least one, if not two, meals together every day? In today’s fast-paced world, Sunday dinner as a family is a great tradition, but it is a giant step away from more regular or daily time spent eating and socializing around the table.
In recognition of its importance, September is now branded as National Family Meals Month. Why all the fuss about sitting down together for a routine that may only last 15-20 minutes? The benefits are actually numerous.
Utah State University Extension’s Food $ense program lists a few of the benefits–especially for children whose families eat together five or more times a week as opposed to those whose families eat together two times or less each week:
- Nutrition and physical development – kids eat more fruits and vegetables, get a wider variety of nutritious foods, have lower rates of childhood obesity, and make healthier choices when they are on their own.
- Emotional development – kids are better able to manage negative emotions, are at less risk of developing eating disorders, and have more positive interactions with others.
- Social development – kids learn important turn-taking skills, have improved communication skills, and learn appropriate ways to share thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
- Academics – kids are more likely to make A’s and B’s in school, and they develop larger vocabularies, even more than those who read together with their parents.
- Behavior – kids are much less likely to use marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco or have friends who use these substances and are less likely to engage in other risky behavior such as premarital sex.
If a family is new to the idea of eating meals together, there will undoubtedly be a few challenges. For example, it may be unrealistic to go from zero meals together to every day. So, set a realistic goal all family members can agree on — it may very well be Sunday dinner once a week and that is a great start. If dinner isn’t the best option, perhaps having family breakfast time on Saturday may work better for you.
Here are some additional tips for making family mealtime a positive experience:
- Plan meals ahead of time.
- Schedule a set time for meals.
- Involve all family members in the meal prep and clean up.
- Turn off the TV and all other electronic devices, including phones.
- Have pleasant conversation and leave discipline and other negative emotions for another time.
Additional helps are available online from Food $ense, including conversation starter ideas and making the meals fun using themes (e.g. Taco Tuesday). Ideas for menu planning with recipes can be found there (e.g. citrus chicken salad, oatmeal nut pancakes and honey glazed chicken).
Learn more about family mealtime or eating healthy on a limited budget here, or contact your local USU Extension office to find out about upcoming classes taught by certified nutrition education assistants in your area. From the Food $ense homepage readers can select from a variety of additional information resources for menu planning, preparing foods, eating healthier, and incorporating physical activities in the day.
Food $ense in most counties also has a local Facebook presence. For example in Iron County, search for “Food $ense Iron County” or see “Food $ense Utah State University.”
Kathleen Riggs is the Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor for Iron County. Questions or comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435-586-8132.