21 Sep Registered Dietitian Discusses the Role Family Meals Play in Reducing Childhood Obesity
We juggle different work schedules, commutes, after school activities, PTA meetings, obligatory overtime, choir practice, single parenting and more. All the while we’re trying to throw meals together and get everybody fed, homework done, bodies cleaned, teeth brushed, and everyone into bed.
Finding time to sit together for a family meal can be almost impossible. But if you take the time to make three or four family meals per week a priority, you’re doing a lot more than just sitting together around a table listening to your kids complain about how they don’t like your food. Really!
Family meals, aside from being a significant space to connect and share, are considered nutritionally healthier. But for a long time there wasn’t hard data to back this intuitive, nutritional claim. It just made sense.
A 2011 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics links nutritional health of children and adolescents to the number of family meals shared during the week. A study of over 185,000 children and their families’ eating habits came back with the data certified nutritionists had forever known. When families eat together, at least three times a week, children are healthier.
- Children develop a healthier relationship with food.
- Children are less likely to be overweight (and less likely to eat only junk food).
- Children are less likely to engage in disordered eating.
- Children are more likely to eat healthier foods and a greater variety of foods.
An Atlantic Monthly Article, The Importance of Eating Together states “children who do not eat dinner with their parents at least twice a week also were 40 percent more likely to be overweight compared to those who do.”
It paints a pretty picture, and looks so easy in print, but it doesn’t help with the reality of the hectic schedules we juggle every day. How can we carve time out of our lives to have one family meal each week, much less three?
Here are 5 easy ways to make family meals part of your weekly routine:
- Redefine “family meal.” As presented in almost every movie or TV show, family meals take place around a big table set with linens, beautiful china, folded napkins, silverware, and flickering candles. Everybody has something witty to say. Apparently screenwriters have not been in real people’s homes. A family meal means sitting together, whether it be a picnic in the park sharing sandwiches and fruit, a late breakfast of yogurt and cereal on a Saturday morning, an evening meal after a long day of work around a card table … any space where a family can sit without distractions to enjoy each other and the food they’re sharing.
- Turn off the TV … your phone, computer, and all electronic distractions. Show your children that sitting and sharing a meal with them is just as important as your work deadlines and appointments.
- Make eating together as a family a priority. If we become mindful of the time we want to spend together and make family meals a priority, they will happen. Set a schedule and stick to it. We make time for hockey practice and tutoring. Schedule family meals like you would any other appointment or extracurricular activity.
- Plan ahead: Nobody, after working an eight to ten-hour shift, wants to come home to cook. Make a big batch of spaghetti sauce, chili, soup or stew over the weekend and freeze it in family-sized meals. When you get home, take it out, defrost it, and voila! Other practical things include crock pot meals and taco-style or sandwich buffets. Try some of these time-saving tips for economic, healthy eating.
- Cook and clean together: Let kids in on the fun, and teach them a few things while you’re at it. From preparation to clean up, the whole family can be involved. Have kids make the salad, cut up fruits and vegetables, make the vinaigrette. This gives added time together as well!
Aside from the nutritional bonus, studies have found that children who grow up in homes where meals are shared are more likely to do well in school, have less trouble with substance abuse, and develop a better relationship with their parents as well as food. One of the most fundamental relationships we have in life is how we view food. This starts at the family table!