There's nothing more refreshing after a day full of work, school, activities, homework, meetings, and playdates than sitting down and having dinner with my family. It's over food that we connect, talk, share and bond. That cherished family meal doesn't happen every night; for me and for most families, that would be impossible. The good news: Research shows that it only takes a minimum of 3 shared family meals per week (breakfast and lunch count, too!) to bring your family closer and make everyone healthier. How refreshing is that? For us, family meals happen mainly on the weekends when we have more time. I love to sit and chat after our plates are clean, and I always sip my wine slowly so my husband is forced to stay at the table with me! It's those meals that remind me of growing up; as a family, we always lingered around the dining table (and we still do when I visit home!). My plea to you is that you give your kids that same privilege—the payoffs of sharing a meal together are priceless, and they include .
- Meals tend to be healthier and nutritious when they are prepared at home.
- Children eat more fruit and vegetables when they see other family members eating it.
- Adults and children alike are less likely to become overweight.
- Children learn to communicate and interact better (especially in a world where everything happens online!).
- Family meals are linked to lower levels of depressive symptoms in all family members and improved psychological wellbeing.
- Family meals can help prevent destructive behavior, including lower rates of smoking, drinking, and illegal drug use in pre-teens and teenagers.
- Children perform better in school.
10 Ways to Make Family Dinners Doable, Easy, and Fun!
1. Think about your week before your dive into the craziness of it all. Are any weeknights free of activities and doable for dinnertime together? Then set your goal to create a minimum of 3 family meals: Friday dinners, Sunday brunches, and Saturday lunch all count!
2. Plan a few meals in advance and add the ingredients to your weekly grocery list. Having everything on hand makes it much easier to whip something up without return trips to the grocery store or stressing out about what you're going to serve.
3. Turn the TV off and make it a rule that mealtime is free of all devices--your children (and you!) can survive 20 minutes without their phones or iPads!
4. Get the kids involved in cooking. Even babies as little as 1 or 2 years old can do certain tasks, such as peeling stickers off of fruit and veggies, washing them under running water, stirring, and pressing the buttons on the blender or food processor.
5. Keep meals simple. The goal is to spend quality time together--not to waste your whole night preparing something elaborate (and then feeling let down if your kids don't eat it.)
6. Create fun themes to get kids excited about mealtime: Think Macaroni Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Special Sunday Pancakes.
7. Let your child pick a recipe a week: Go to the grocery store together, gather the ingredients, and make it together. What they'll learn goes way beyond cooking: price, measurement, and more!
8. Make it enjoyable! Leave the serious discussions for later (read: no talk about Johnny's bad day at school), and let mealtime be a relaxing, calming, and comforting time.
9. Don't put pressure on the kids to eat what's on their plates. Instead, make the focus on the conversation and let the food be secondary. Nothing spoils dinner like constant pressure from parents telling their kids to take more bites.
10. Say grace and/or go around the table and have everyone say one thing they're happy about or thankful for.
What do you do to make family meals happen? Share your ideas--and inspire each other!