It never fails. Dinner time sneaks up on me most days. As a full-time stay-at home mom (SAHM) and entrepreneur, my days are hectic. I'm sure many can relate. Whether you are bouncing babies, chasing toddlers, managing school drop off and pick up, or meeting important work deadlines, dinner time comes every day. Regardless of if you are ready for it or not.
It's obvious (hopefully) that providing healthy food options during these mealtimes is important. But research has found another important indicator of health outcomes in children and adolescents: consistently eating meals together as a family.
A research review (Freise and Hammons, 2011) of several studies on health outcomes related to family meals found that the families that eat a meal together 3 or more times a week has increased health outcomes in children and adolescents. These outcomes include children and adolescents being more likely to be in a normal weight range, to consume healthier diets (they ate more fruits and vegetables), and were shown as being less likely to engage in disordered eating than families who shared fewer than 3 meals a week.
Aren't these things that MOST parents want? Healthy children, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are full. Simply increasing your family’s frequency of shared meals is an easy first step to benefit the health of all the members of your family.
How often does your family share a meal? If you want to increase how often this habit happens in your home, here are 5 simple ideas to get everyone eating together.
Have a plan. If you don’t already, schedule the meal(s) that your family is going to eat together at the table each day. Depending on the routines in your family, this may be at breakfast time—that is ok! It doesn’t have to be the dinner meal, just pick a time that the whole family is present.
Prep ahead of time. Chop the vegetables the night or morning before the meal. Decreasing the amount of cooking time right before the meal is helpful to reduce any potential for meltdowns from littles!
Decrease distractions. Turn off the TV and put phones away. Eat at a table where all members of the family can engage in conversation and see each other.
Make mealtimes a “no-fight” zone! Eliminate the fight over what the kids eat. Research shows that the best way to develop healthy eaters is for the parents and children to follow specific roles. Parents are to provide the what, when, and where of eating. The children are then to assume the role of deciding what they will eat (from options offered) and how much. Making kids clean their plate or eat all their food has little evidence to actually produce healthier eaters in the long run.
Have FUN during the meal! Especially if you have picky eaters at your table, anything you can do to lighten the mood will help them associate positivity to the family meal experience. Keep conversation light by asking about everyone’s highlights and lowlights from the day. Another idea is to have special themed dinners (Taco Tuesday, Friday Night Pizza Night, etc).
Let us know how often your family gathers together to eat and which of these tips can help increase the frequency of sharing a meal.
The Dr. & The RDN
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