October is Eat Together, Eat Better Month, a time to refocus our energies on family meals and enjoying tasty and healthy dishes around the table together. Eating together is not just important for children—it’s important for adults, too.
Families who eat together, eat better
What’s so great about eating together? Plenty! Here are five highlights from research studies that have looked at the role of family meals on health:
- Increased frequency of family dinner is associated with more healthful eating patterns (greater consumption of fruits and vegetables, lower intake of saturated and trans fat, soda and fried foods) and a higher intake of nutrients.
- Kids who eat family meals 3 or more times per week are more likely to eat healthier foods and have better eating patterns. They are less likely to be overweight and to develop abnormal eating behaviors than those who have fewer family meal together.
- Eating home-cooked meals is associated with consuming less fat, sugar and calories for all family members.
- Teens who participate in family dinners infrequently (less than 3 times per week) are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
- Children who eat with their families are more likely to get better grades in school.
Additionally, family dinners contribute to the overall wellbeing of both children and adults. At family dinners language skills get practiced, relaxed social interactions can occur, table manners are learned, traditions are born, cultural heritage is celebrated and life moments—both big and small—are shared. Connecting with family members over a meal is a habit worth nurturing.
Getting to the table
When everyone is so busy you may ask what’s the trick to putting meals on the table for the whole family more frequently? There’s no real secret. Making the family meal happen is more about planning and finding ways that fit your family’s unique circumstances. To help you on your journey to increasing family meals at your house, here are a few tips that may be helpful:
- Schedule family meals for the week: look at everyone’s schedules and decide which meals you’ll have together. It doesn’t always have to be dinner, breakfast works too. Be sure everyone knows the plan—write it down somewhere where everyone can see the schedule.
- Ask your family about what they’d like to see on the menu: children are more likely to be invested in the meals when they get to have some say in what will be served. Work in some favorites while still keeping an eye toward creating healthy, balanced meals.
- Use a few convenience items, but strive to make some dishes from scratch.
- Use the opportunity to expand your culinary skills or teach your children some of the family’s favorite recipes (it will come in handy later in life).
- Enlist the help of the whole family. Giving jobs to everyone creates a shared experience and can make even a regular Tuesday night dinner more fun and memorable. Little kids can help set the table, toss a salad, fold napkins or arrange food on platters. Older children can wash produce, measure and stir ingredients, portion food onto plates. Teens can help put recipes together and cook.
Make family mealtime interesting
Remember the days when menus were predictable (think meatloaf on Monday). Over-planning your meals risks boring you and your family. Instead, mix it up a little—eating a wide variety of foods is more healthful and more fun, too. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Plan a “tasting menu” where you serve several new foods that your family hasn’t tried (in smaller, tasting portions so little eaters don’t feel overwhelmed), or make a couple of simple, new recipes and have each family member “rate” them (favorites get to show up on the table again).
- Breakfast for dinner is a favorite with kids and adults. Pancakes sprinkled with a handful of frozen Wild Blueberries tossed in the batter will get everyone to the table quickly (as will waffles, French toast or pretty much any of the recipes here); or serve mini-Wild Blueberry smoothies alongside omelets or an egg casserole (a good way to use up leftover cooked vegetables and meats).
- Prepare a themed dinner. Plan a menu featuring foods from a foreign country; have a meal where every food starts with the same letter; or let each child plan a menu (with help if needed).
- Get out of the dining room. Pack up the food, bring a blanket and head out for a DIY “take out” dinner. Go to the park, the lake, or just go into the living room for a fun change of pace (skip the TV though, this is your time to reconnect with your family).