It’s worth making a habit of eating with your family several times a week. You’ll all eat more healthily if you sit down together, while improving your family’s social and emotional well-being.
Little things can make a bigger difference than you’d think. It’s easy to fall out of the habit of eating together as a family.
But, it’s worth making sure family meals occur at least a couple of times a week.
You may have eaten together more during the COVID-19 pandemic, some research suggests. Did you notice that you felt closer or ate more healthily? Even if your family didn't eat together, as people now go out more, you may want to think about maintaining the routine, writes Anne Fishel, associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, who strongly recommends sharing meals in her family therapy practice.
Family meals are great for children. Your kids are likely to be happier, healthier, and do better in school if you eat together. They are also less likely to become overweight.
It might surprise you to hear that family meals are great for adults, whether they're eating with a toddler, teen, or older parent. For one thing, you're likely to eat more fruits and vegetables. Mothers are less likely to go on fad diets or binge, and fathers are less likely to eat fast. The tendency can also set a good example for the little ones and improve your effort to prepare better meals.
If you eat alone, you are more likely to skip meals and can end up with poorer health. Eating in front of the television also leads to weight gain, for both adults and children.
Family meals bring emotional benefits as well. It's a time for your family to slow down, talk, and feel supported. It can help everyone step away from electronic gadgets and the over stimulation of the outside world.
Keep up the ritual during your children's teen years and they're likely to carry on the tradition, with all its benefits, if they become parents. You can think of it as a kind of family "heirloom," Fishel writes.
Why are family meals no longer commonplace?
- You or a spouse may have work hours that make having family mealtimes hard. You can still aim for a shared meals on certain days. Make it easy: keep the meal simple or eat a meal prepared elsewhere. You can still establish a ritual of sharing meals.
- It feels like too much work. You resent doing all the chores. So how can you get a spouse or children to do more?
The problem may be that you set your standards too high. Your husband or even an older teen could make dinner for the family. If you have a husband who doesn't cook, have him pick a meal and make it with you. The next time he may do it on his own, for everyone.
So, if your teen starts wanting to make her own meals and eat them alone, you might ask her to make some for everyone and be in charge of the family meal.
- Let the person in charge choose the meal.
- Establish a routine. You cook Mondays. Dad cooks Tuesdays. Your 15-year-old cooks Wednesday. Thursday is leftover night. Eat out on Friday.
- Be specific about expectations, when the meal will begin, when you need a shopping list, and who does clean up.
Your younger children will want to get involved, too. Depending on their age, lean towards letting children make decisions and take responsibility when they're helping in the kitchen. Ask your child about their favorite meals and find ways to make everyday versions. If you have more than one child, look for ways each one can take ownership of their tasks. Let them have fun. It's okay to chop vegetables a different way or even add an ingredient to a meal you wouldn't usually use.
Sometimes everyone has specific tastes or restrictions, and you can't make everyone happy with the same meal. Again, that doesn't rule out eating together.
February 09, 2022
Janet O’Dell, RN