Eat Together—Today

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on May 12, 2006 · 0 comments

Eating as a family is more important than you think.

What with work schedules, commuting, sports practices, and after-school activities, fewer and fewer families eat meals together these days. Sitting down to a homemade breakfast or coordinating schedules to eat dinner together seems like a relic of the past. If you provide good food choices is it really important to eat together? Surprisingly, yes!

Researchers have concluded that eating together as a family is one of the most important things parents can do to help children develop emotionally and physically. With all that is going on in your life, how can you do this? Like everything else that is important, make eating together a priority.

  • Aim to eat at least 3 to 4 meals together a week. Any meal, any day counts; even a picnic in the car before a game or practice.
  • Make meals together fun and engaging. Don’t use meals as an opportunity to criticize, discipline or fight.
  • Make the whole family responsible for meals. Small children can set the table; older kids can make salad; Dad can do the dishes, providing an opportunity for role modeling and education.
  • Show children that meal preparation can be simple, healthy and easy. A rotisserie chicken, bag of salad and microwaved baked potatoes make a quick and easy dinner. Children who eat well growing up will continue healthy habits and pass them on to their own children.
  • Use family meals to socialize. Tell kids about your day, ask about theirs. Share jokes. Avoid topics that can lead to conflict. Turn off the TV, radio, iPods, and computer, and let the answer machine take phone calls.

We do many things to ensure the health and safety of our children, but few parents realize the enormous benefits that eating as a family can provide. Family meals:

  • Allow you to build family solidarity, unity and identity by sharing values, attitudes, culture and heritage.
  • Provide opportunities for communication.
  • Add structure and routine to a child’s day.
  • Offer a simple way to monitor a child’s mood, behaviors and whereabouts.
  • Provide a place to teach and model good eating habits.
  • Promote a child’s language development.
  • Offer a safe haven for teens, discouraging less substance abuse, increasing well-being and encouraging academic achievement.

Children who regularly share family meals eat more fruits, vegetables and dairy foods, and less soda and fried foods. Have dinner together tonight.

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