One of the parents’ concerns for their children’s health refers to food and the necessity to choose minimally processed, healthy, natural ingredients. Parents often opt for those cooking methods that best retain food nutrients. They try to use cookware and kitchen accessories that do not alter the food by releasing toxic substances. All these have one long-term purpose: to teach children how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet. Inducing a healthy lifestyle to children when they are little will help build the framework for a lifetime of healthy habits.
Time spent eating together at the table in the family has both physical and emotional benefits. Family meals are linked to children’s lower risk of obesity, strong family relationships, and fewer behavioral problems.
1. Family meals improve your family’s nutrition
Family meals are definitely a role model for healthy eating. While kids will see their parents eating healthy food, they will more likely want to try various new foods. On the other hand, parents can offer nutritious food to their children and observe what their kids like and dislike. This is why eating together with your baby is a good habit to put into practice as soon as you start weaning. Studies suggest that eating with your family is associated with a reduced risk of childhood obesity in children and adolescents.
To improve your children’s nutrition, serve a diversity of healthy foods and be a role model by eating healthy yourself. Because of this, the kids will make good decisions on their own, in the future, regarding the foods they want to eat.
Below are a few great resources that will help you stick to family meals:
- Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal
- Williams-Sonoma Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen
- The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner: Easy Family Meals for Every Day of the Week
- The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià
The books above are full of worth trying delicious recipes for your whole family.
2. Improve communication skills and relationships with each other
Family meals bring benefits on several levels, but how family members interact at the table is, by far, the most important. Parents and kids can talk about how their day went (ex. “What is the best day that happened to you today?”), about their achievements or concerns. However, if the conversation becomes intense, it is best to try and express your appreciation that your child is sharing how he feels about the subject and suggest talking about it after dinner (ex. “We will surely get back to this whenever you want to talk about it.”). The setting should be positive and dynamic but also warm and relaxing. You can encourage conversation by expressing an interest in your child’s daily life, being an active listener, and letting your child participate, talk and listen.
Family meals represent a favorable moment for parents to teach their children manners and polite conversation skills. It is a means of conversation and connection and an opportunity to transmit family values and (cultural) traditions from one generation to the next, too, so take full advantage of it and spend quality time together.
3. Prevent and avoid high-risk behaviors
Family meals are a good opportunity for parents to monitor their children’s moods and behaviors and model them through communication. They have a positive impact on children’s personal development, motivation, and values. Kids who eat with their families become more receptive and understand easier their parents’ expectations and the boundaries they set.
Various studies show that children who eat together with their parents are less prone to depression or substance abuse, develop higher self-esteem, have better academic performance, and are less likely to have subsequent eating disorders.
Here are a few tips to help you maintain and enjoy family meals:
- Establish a predictable schedule of family meals.
- Involve your kid in meal preparation (select some age-appropriate tasks).
- Turn off the television, the radio, and other mobile devices during the meals.
- Keep mealtime calm, friendly, and fun.
- Experiment with fun recipes or have “themed” cuisine evenings (Italian, Mexican, Chinese, etc.).
- Avoid battles over food.
- Don’t use food as a reward for your kid’s achievements.
- Clean up together after dinner, but don’t force kids to clean their plates.
- Have them at least four or five times a week.
The most important thing about family meals is to try making them part of a daily routine, to make them fun and family-centered.
Do you enjoy family meals? Tell us more about it!