By Diane McIlhon, RD, LD
Lead Dietitian, Mercy Weight Loss & Nutrition Center
October is Eat Together, Eat Better Month – a time to celebrate family meal times. Life can get a bit crazy with work obligations, school projects and activities, sporting events, and social activities. Despite hectic schedules, this is a great time of year to focus our energy on bringing our families together to enjoy delicious, healthy meals.
There are plenty of reasons why family mealtime is important. Research suggests the more frequently we eat together as a family, the more likely we are to make healthier food choices – more fruits and vegetables, less pop, fewer fried foods, lower intake of sugar, fat and calories. Kids who eat family meals frequently are less likely to be overweight and develop abnormal eating patterns and are more likely to get better grades in school. It’s also a great time to bond as a family; to talk over the events of the day, to share happy stories and to seek reassurance and security.
So Why Don’t We Do It?
Sometimes it’s difficult to manage meals together. Often, kids are hungry earlier than parents want to eat. Sometimes parents who work outside of the home aren’t home in time for dinner with their kids. Siblings may have different schedules that interfere with everyone sitting down at the same time for a meal. While these are all obstacles, try to make family mealtime a priority.
Make It Happen…
Making the family meal happen is more about planning and finding ways to accommodate your family’s situation.
- Look at everyone’s schedules and decide which meals you will eat together. It doesn’t always have to be dinner, breakfast works too!
- Start small. If you don’t eat any meals as a family, start with one! Of course, the more frequently you eat together, the greater the benefit. However, new habits are often difficult to make. Start small and continue to build.
- Plan the menu. Ask your family about what they would like on the menu. Children are more likely to be invested in the meals, if they have some input on what is being served. Try some new recipes to make it fun!
- Keep it simple. Meals don’t have to be elaborate. If you enjoy cooking and like trying new recipes, great! If not, stick to the basics. Include some lean protein, plenty of vegetables, whole grains and fruit for dessert.
- Incorporate healthy foods. Try to include more whole foods and limit the highly processed ingredients. For example, make a bag of frozen broccoli seasoned with herbs instead of the bag of broccoli with cheese sauce. This is also a great time of year when fresh produce is abundant. Visit an orchard or your local farmers market. Buying produce in season can be delicious and economical.
- Make a shopping list and get groceries. Part of the battle is having the ingredients on hand when you are ready to cook. It’s best if you create your shopping list as you create your menu. If you don’t enjoy grocery shopping or just don’t have time, you can order your groceries online. Simply place your order online; the store will gather your items and either deliver your order to your home have it ready for pick up.
- Prep foods ahead of time. Spend a little time cleaning and chopping some of the items when you first bring them home. This will save you time in the long run.
- Involve the entire family. Recruit family members to help with setting the table, mixing ingredients, pouring beverages, and serving. Keep the experience positive; show them that the family can work together and enjoy the fruits of their labor
Sit at the table. Turn off the TV and other gadgets. Studies suggest that distracted eating can lead to overconsumption. Your brain often fails to register when you have had enough to eat until you have overeaten. Family meals can provide a more positive effect; eating more slowly may give your body time to recognize when you have eaten enough. Make mealtime a pleasant time for family to share their experiences and to enjoy each other’s company.