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Celebrating Family Meals Month
What does dinnertime look like at your house? Is everyone gathered around the table sharing a healthy meal and recounting the events of the day? Or is one kid scarfing down fast food in the car on the drive to soccer practice, while the other heats up a frozen pizza to eat while doing homework alone?
Don’t worry…I’m not here to shame you! The truth is for a lot of us, it’s not one or the other, but some of both. So how can we do a little bit better? Enter Family Meals Month (also known as September). The goal of this month is to move the dial just a tad by committing to eating one more meal together as a family each week.
Why is the family dinner important?
Three reasons: Better nutrition, better behavior, and better grades.
It turns out eating together can have a positive impact on child development and family health. Children ages 9-14 who have more regular dinners with their families have healthier diets. They consume more fruits and vegetables, less saturated and trans fat, fewer fried foods and sodas and more vitamins and other micro-nutrients. Children who eat with their folks are 24 percent more likely to eat healthier foods.
That’s just the nutrition side; then there’s the school side. Kids who don’t regularly eat with their parents are significantly more likely to cut school. Plus, teens who have frequent family dinners on average get better grades. Researchers theorize these benefits may come from the time spent communicating and connecting. I can vouch from personal experience that when my 6-year-old daughter gets a good chunk of quality time with me each day, she’s less cranky, more cooperative, and better behaved.
Family dinners have sharply declined
Of course, given how most of our lives these days are on overload, eating together can be a challenge. Between adults’ work hours and kids’ extracurricular schedules, it can be hard to find time to cook or even figure out a time when everyone’s free to eat. As a result, over the past three decades, time spent around the dinner table has declined by more than 30 percent.
Family dinner roadblocks and solutions
If you’re not eating together as often as you’d like, try to pinpoint what’s stopping you. It’s typically one of two things:
- Time: If time to cook is the problem, try cooking and freezing meals over the weekend, or employ your kids as sous chefs. Most teens can cook meals by themselves before your home from work, and younger kids can help you prep ingredients or stir a pot. Bonus: kids who help cook are more likely to eat what you serve them. (Yes, even vegetables.) Even if you can’t find time to cook, though, you can still eat a healthy dinner as a family. If you’re all sitting at the table and eating — even if it’s from the deli counter at Whole Foods — it counts.
- Schedules: If the main issue is getting everyone to the table, consider eating dinner early or late or having the extra family meal be a weekend breakfast. If you must eat in shifts, consider sitting and talking with the kid who’s eating early before an evening play rehearsal even if you’re not going to eat until later. They’ll still be eating a home cooked meal and spending time with you.
Make your family meals about connection
A recent study from Colombia University found 71% of teenagers said they consider connecting, talking, and laughing with family the best part of family meals. So, once you are all around the table together, make sure it’s family time. Turn off the television, put the phones away, and talk. In our family, we do a dinner game called “High/Low.” Everyone goes around the table and shares what the best and worst part of their day was. It’s a great way to find out what’s happening in everyone’s lives, and I’m hoping it’s teaching my daughter to have empathy when she hears her Mom and Dad share what we’re feeling sad or worried or mad about.
High/Low not your thing? Get creative! Ask what animal everyone would like to be or discuss where they would most like to go on vacation, or talk about the news — whatever gets your crew engaging with each other.
Need some family dinner ideas? Check out Juice Plus+ Healthy Starts for Families. Juice Plus+ designed this wellness initiative to inspire healthy family living by encouraging you to make small but impactful lifestyle changes. In our Health Resources, you’ll find recipes and tips that focus on the four core pillars of wellness: fitness, nutrition, hydration, and sleep. And if you take part in the Family Health Study, qualifying families can receive free Juice Plus+ capsules or chewables for your child for up to four years. Sign your family up here.
How often do you eat together as a family?
Why Family Meals Matter. 2019. https://www.fmi.org/family-meals-month/meals-matter
Anderson J, Trumbull D. The benefits of the family table. American College of Pediatrics. 2014 May. https://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/parenting-issues/the-benefits-of-the-family-table
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