Many of us have heard how important it is to eat as a family. But we also know that, with crazy and overlapping schedules, it’s easy for life to get in the way. In fact, in the U.S., 70 percent of meals are consumed outside of the home, with 20 percent eaten in the car.
On the other hand, studies show that families who dine at home together are happier and healthier. Kids who eat with their parents are more likely to eat their fruits and veggies, have higher self esteem and better body image, lower rates of obesity, and higher grades. Ultimately, strong family connections keep kids healthier and safer.
The benefits are numerous, but again, schedules are hectic. How can you plan out a family meal without it becoming a chore for all involved?
Set Goals + Schedule it
When you think about it, most families have two opportunities to eat together during the week – breakfast and dinner – and three on the weekends. That’s over 15 possible meal times throughout just one week. First, set a goal: you’ll eat together twice a week; you’ll eat as many meals together as possible; breakfast is a must-do. Find a goal that works for you and stick to it! If it helps, set times on the family calendar that work for everyone’s schedule each week.
Understand that life will inevitably surprise you. When this happens, be flexible. Put carrots, hummus, salsa, and chips out on the kitchen table and take it as an opportunity to snack together. Your mealtime doesn’t have to be formal!
You Don’t Need to be Lavish
On that note, family mealtime doesn’t have to mean pulling out all the gourmet foods. Your family doesn’t need an elaborate meal to sit down and eat together. Keep it simple; the goal is to come together and enjoy each other’s company, not an adorned meal. One easy trick? Create buffet-style meals that cater to all different tastes and eating restrictions. Put out vegetable starters to get everyone engaged, then set out a make-your-own-meal buffet (tacos, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas, and pastas work great!) to keep everyone happy and healthy.
Another option? Meal prep on Sundays, or whichever day is the freest for you. Cook a double batch of Sunday dinner and freeze it for the remainder of the week. Remember – the freezer is your friend! Even better, involve kids in the prep work. That’s more time spent together and valuable skills learned.
Converse with No Pressure
Use family dinner as a time to truly enjoy each other’s company. That means no talk of bad grades, school problems, and chores. Try talking about something exciting: a family vacation or weekend plans. Current events also work. Make it easier to chat by creating a “tech rule” for phones: either forbid them from the table, or use the “one glance rule” for greater flexibility.
All in all, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity to nourish the mind, soul, and stomach together at a family meal. Make it a priority this month as school is starting, and let us know how it goes!