Written by Dr. Karrie Heneman, PhD in Nutrition
Edited and Updated by Sandra Gentleman, RD
Benefits of Family Meals
Family meals are one of the best ways to connect with your kids regularly. Finding time for difficult conversations can be challenging in today’s fast-paced world. Family meals create space for meaningful conversations. It takes time to eat a meal, and food is a fantastic distraction. Family meals also help to create a lifelong bond between parents and their children. Regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of anxiety and depression in kids, fewer eating disorders, and higher rates of self-esteem. Children whose families participate in regular family meals also are more successful in school. Finally, family meals create a consistent schedule that helps kids feel more secure.
Creating A Family Meal Routine
If you are not currently eating regular family meals together, it is essential to remember that family meals can be casual and easy to make. The point of a family meal is togetherness. A simple dinner of pasta topped with a jar of spaghetti sauce, a frozen vegetable, and sliced fruit can come together in minutes and costs significantly less than takeout. Family meals also do not have to occur at dinner time. Check your family schedule and find a time that works best for everyone to sit down together. Some families find breakfast or weekend brunches the most accessible times to get everyone together.
Tips For Making Family Meals Habitual
If family meals are not a habit, they will quickly fall by the wayside. To encourage your family to stick with this new routine, be consistent. It takes about ten weeks for a new practice to become a habit. I like to mark family dinners in our calendar so that we are sure to avoid scheduling any other events during this time. Using a calendar becomes even more critical as your children get older and start to manage their schedules. Finally, family meals should be free of distractions. Family members should turn off all televisions and computers, and phones should not come to the table.
It can be discouraging when making family meals if kids do not like what you prepared. Kids can have twice as many tastebuds as adults. These additional tastebuds make new flavors taste stronger and harder to enjoy. Don’t give up if your child does not like the food at the first pass! It is important to keep introducing healthy foods in different and exciting ways. Try changing the color, how you prepare the food (roasted, steamed, raw, etc.), or the sauce you top it with.
Most importantly, be patient. Change takes time. Children who are particular about the food they eat desire to control. What kids put into their mouths is one of the few things they can have complete power over. As a parent, I want to teach my kids to respect their bodies and what goes into them. The first step in this process is asking kids to decide what type and how much food they eat. Although this is not always easy, it is essential to raising a healthy eater.
Family Meals First Who Am I? My name is Karrie Heneman. I received a BA in Human Biology at Stanford in 1999 and a PhD in nutrition at UC Davis in 2004.