As summer break winds down, the pace of your family’s schedule will likely pick up. Fast-paced, jam-packed days often mean fewer family meals. However, family meals have many benefits, and family members thrive when gathered around the table on a consistent basis. Protect and prioritize family mealtime this fall, keeping the following benefits in mind:
IMPROVED ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
Children who engage in conversation and storytelling develop greater confidence and a broader vocabulary than children who do not. Children who participate in mealtime discussions are more likely to excel in scholastics as well as post-graduate endeavors involving presentations and interviewing. There’s no better place for storytelling than at the dinner table!
DECREASED RISK OF DISORDERED EATING
More frequent family meals lead to less risk of developing disordered eating patterns. Family meals decrease opportunities for secretive eating patterns while promoting healthful habits such as engaging in conversation, consuming a wide variety of foods, and eating at a moderate pace. Best practice recommends that parent(s) model non-diet behaviors by removing judgemental language and rules around food and modeling how all foods can fit into a nutritious diet for children to observe and imitate.
DECREASED RISK OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Children and teenagers who frequently engage with their parents on a personal level are significantly less likely to partake in alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drug use. Family meals establish opportunities for children to share about their day and for parents to influence their children positively as their primary authority and role model.
DECREASED RISK OF DEPRESSION
Many households do not have the opportunity to interact closely throughout the day due to school, careers, sports, and other extracurriculars, so the majority of American teenagers report conversing and connecting most with their families over a shared meal. Creating an environment supportive of conversation opens the door for family members to offer support and encouragement where needed while limiting the opportunity for isolation. Adequate nutrition also lowers the likelihood of developing depression as food provides nutrients needed for proper physical, emotional, and mental regulation
If aligning schedules and planning meals feel unattainable, you’re not alone! Only about 30% of American families consistently share dinner together. Though more than 85% of Americans acknowledge the benefits, they report being unable to find the time. Check out these five tips to help your family enjoy more mealtimes together
TIP #1: START SMALL.
Evaluate your current circumstances and initiate a small change. Be creative! For example, brainstorm family meal times and days most likely to work for each family member. Be flexible and remember that perfect attendance isn’t required as benefits are reaped with two or more at the table! Memphis Nutrition Group offers various services to help overcome any challenges you may have, such as food allergies, selective eating, and menu planning.
TIP #2: KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Fight any pressure to deliver a “Pinterest perfect” meal each day. The magic is not in the food! Instead, an environment encouraging conversation, laughter, and storytelling is the primary goal. Keep quick and easy meal ideas in your back pocket, such as take-out, leftovers, take-and-bake casseroles, slow cooker meals, or sandwiches.
TIP #3: MAKE PLANNING AND PREPPING A FAMILY EFFORT.
Your family will be much more likely to commit to family meals if they have invested their own time and energy! Together, create a grocery list of desired meal ingredients for the week and distribute tasks to make mealtimes possible despite busy schedules. Establishing roles prevents “decision fatigue” when the family is tired and hungry.
TIP #4: CONSIDER UNCONVENTIONAL “MEALTIMES”
AS NEEDED. If it means every one can sit down together, it may be worth it to eat unusually early or late sometimes, filling in the gaps with snacks as needed. If conventional mealtimes aren’t working for your family, consider establishing an after-school or post-dinner dessert or snack time to create community within the family. Offering food and drink will encourage you and yours to settle into genuine and enjoyable conversations.
TIP #5: INITIATE CONVERSATION.
Do you have trouble initiating conversation during the meal? Try asking questions requiring a multi-word answer and/or answering questions with an honest heart! Your family will appreciate open and honest communication. Also, consider a mealtime game or activity to kindle humor and fun!
CHECK OUT THESE RESOURCES FOR MORE:
Jennifer Bookout RDN, LDN is a nutrition therapist at Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition and lifestyle counseling practice offering in-person and virtual nutrition therapy specializing in a non-diet, weight-neutral approach. Memphis Nutrition Group helps individuals reconnect with their bodies, find confidence and clarity in everyday choices, and create a peaceful, balanced approach to food that tastes good and feels even better. Contact Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit MemphisNutritionGroup.com for more information.