It may be dinnertime, but when was the last time your family sat down and enjoyed a meal together? With music lessons, ball practice, play rehearsal, and work schedules, it can be tough. Today’s busy lifestyle can make eating together a challenge, but it’s worth the effort it takes. There are nutrition, health, social, and mental benefits to eating with others.
If you find yourself concerned about what your child does (and does not) eat, the solution could be as close as your kitchen table. Families sitting down and eating meals together is one of the most important steps you can take when nurturing the relationship you and your family have with their food. Nothing is quite as satisfying and fulfilling as preparing a nutritious meal for yourself and your loved ones and sitting around the table together to enjoy it as a family unit. The family meal, eating together and the social aspects of sharing food have been a cornerstone of life from Paleolithic times until today.
It is time to bring the "family" back to the dinner table. Sharing dinner together gives everyone a sense of identity. It can help ease day-to-day conflicts, as well as establish traditions and memories that can last a lifetime.
Benefits of Eating Together
Meals prepared and eaten together are often more nutritious and healthier. They contain more real foods and can be in better alignment with your Paleo diet and lifestyle principles.
Communication and Well-Being
Conversations during the meal provide opportunities for the family to bond, plan, connect, and learn from one another. The family meal becomes a chance to share information and news of the day, as well as give extra attention to your children and teens. Family meals foster warmth, security and love, as well as feelings of belonging – a unifying experience.
Expanding Food Choices
Eating together can provide a safe space to encourage children to try new foods, without forcing, coercing, or bribing. Introduce a new food along with some of the stand-by favorites. It can take 8-10 exposures to a new food before it is accepted, so be patient. Trying a new food is like starting a new hobby. It expands your child’s knowledge, experience, and skill. You could try:
- Including foods from other cultures and countries.
- Selecting a new vegetable from a local farmer’s market.
- Having your child select a new recipe from a cookbook, web site, newspaper or magazine (or order their favorite from Pete’s Paleo).
Trust your children to show or tell you how much they want to eat and when they are finished eating. An important part of developing healthy eating habits is learning to stop when full. Being forced or pressured to finish food can make your child ignore their internal hunger and fullness cues. It id also important not to rush children through a meal. Children often take longer to eat than adults. Remind children to eat slowly, chew their food well and enjoy what they are eating.
Preventing Destructive Behaviors
Research shows that frequent family dinners (five or more a week), are associated with lower rates of smoking, drinking, and illegal drug use in pre-teens and teenagers when compared to families that eat together two or fewer times per week. Even as older children’s schedules become more complicated, it is important to try to eat meals together. Scheduling is a must.
Children today are missing out on the importance of knowing how to plan and prepare meals. Basic cooking, baking, and food preparation are necessities for being self-sufficient. Involve your family in menu planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. Preschoolers can tear lettuce, cut bananas, and set the table. Older children can pour bone broth, peel vegetables, and mix things. Teenagers can dice, chop, bake, and grill. Working as a team puts the meal on the table faster, as well as makes everyone more responsible and accepting of the outcome. Improved eating habits come with "ownership" of a meal.
Developing Social Skills
Family mealtime is the perfect opportunity to display appropriate table manners, meal etiquette, and social skills. Besides general health and fitness, the social interaction and discussions of current issues at the table can make children better communicators. Turn off distractions like the TV, computer, tablets and phones during mealtimes. Keep toys and books off the table. Keep the mood light, relaxed, and loving. Lead by example as opposed to instructing or criticizing.
Children do better in school when they eat more meals with their parents and family. Teenagers who eat dinner four or more times per week with their families have higher academic performance compared with teenagers who eat with their families two or fewer times per week.
Schedule Time to Eat Together
Eating together can happen at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Choose the meal that gives you the most time to talk and connect. If you don’t usually eat together, start by scheduling one meal per week and increase the number as you are able. Once you decide what meal you are going to eat together, mark it on your calendar like you would any other event. Try to schedule activities so that they don’t interfere with mealtimes. If that’s not possible, create a meal together around a picnic table in a park on the way to piano lessons or rink-side before hockey. If you have a plan, it is more likely to happen.
Circle your friends and family around your Paleo food choices as often as you can. The more you eat together, the more you benefit.
Creating A Family Meal
Keep It Simple.
Attempting to make a meal with 20 ingredients can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, build a small collection of go-to recipes to help you get in and out of the kitchen in under 30 minutes.
Choose Ingredients That Multitask.
Ingredients you can use for more than one meal are a major time saver. Instead of making three chicken breasts, consider making six. This way, you can use the extras in other dishes later in the week, such as chicken salad or fajitas.
Family Meals Are A Habit.
Make sure each family member knows that everyone is to be home for dinner at a particular time. When everyone expects to enjoy dinner at a specific time, they will begin to look forward to this and will arrange their schedules around it.
Make Meals Fun.
Add some fun and excitement with food themes. You can use a checkered tablecloth for an Italian-inspired meal, or prepare fresh Asian-inspired cuisine and eat with chopsticks. Throw a blanket on your family room floor and enjoy a family picnic. Let everyone choose a theme, and you will see that your choices are endless.
Keep It Real
A few tips and tricks for keeping family dinner a reality on busy evenings include:
On nights when you are making a full dinner, double it and freeze the other half. If you know that Thursday nights are always crazy, but Mondays are easier, plan to shop for and cook a double meal on Monday that you can eat again on Thursday.
Use Your Crockpot or Instantpot
Get all your cooking done earlier in the day, plug it in, and have it all ready to go at dinner time. Alternately, get items ready to go so when you come home you can plug in your pressure cooker and have dinner ready in a snap.
Pete’s Paleo has a huge variety of chef inspired, delicious meals made with the best ingredients and lots of love. Order up your family favorites (or let them choose their own) – delivered right to you. Dinner will be ready when you are – no apron required.
Eating meals together just might be the ultimate parenting hack Start your new family meal tradition today by making a commitment to eating at least one meal together each week. Many families look forward to and love a dinner tradition. Before you know it, family dinner will be a time that everyone looks forward to enjoying together!
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com