By Rebekah Harter, Keene State College Dietetic Intern
Family meals can promote healthy eating habits, develop interpersonal skills, improve emotional stability and decrease fears when trying new foods. A recent survey found that — despite busy lifestyles — 75 percent of parents or guardians of children under the age of 18 manage to eat together as a family at least four nights per week.
Families that know and understand these benefits are incorporating family meals into their lives. But how can we make a good thing even better?
Here is a list of five areas where parents most wanted improvement in their family meals, according to the survey. We’ve also included some suggestions on how to make the most out of family meals.
Increase Frequency of Family Meals
- Get together as a family and strategize how you can make family meals happen more often in your home. If you are not used to having frequent family meals, commit to one more meal together per week.
- If your children have sports or extracurricular events, why not try a picnic at the big game or have a healthy fruit smoothie together when you get home?
Promote Food Acceptance Among children
- Some children are picky eaters. This can cause frustration at dinnertime. Many parents feel as if they have become “short-order cooks” because as no one to likes the same things. As mentioned before, family meals can help reduce neophobia (fear of new things) when it comes to food.
- Parents and family members can use the family meal to model healthy eating and acceptance of new foods. The family meal can be used to try new dishes or foods.
- Involve the whole family in deciding a menu for the meal. A well-balanced meal can be developed by using the MyPlate tool from the USDA. Incorporate whole grains, fruits and vegetables, protein, and a healthy beverage like water or milk to make a healthy hunger-fighting meal.
Share Meal Responsibilities With the Whole Family
- Allow children to be involved in food preparation: washing produce, mixing ingredients, peeling, mashing.
- Give everyone a responsibility for the meal: setting the table, washing dishes, meal planning, writing grocery list.
Decrease Conflict at Meals
- Sometimes the family meal is the only time the whole family is together, so it is understandable when conflict arises. While conflict at the dinner table is never ideal, it can be a great opportunity to model healthy conflict and resolution.
- Develop a strategy on how you handle conflict at the dinner table. Avoid raising your voice or yelling. Avoid low-blows or name-calling. Avoid interrupting or talking over each other. Try being assertive and expressing how you feel. One way to do this is by using this formula: “When you (identify the person’s behavior that provoked your response), I feel (recognize and accept your feelings), because (identify why you feel that way), I would prefer you to (identify a solution that will reduce further conflict).”
Eat Out Healthfully
- Making a homemade meal every day can be overwhelming and eating out can be a special time together. Parents can take this opportunity to model healthy eating behaviors outside of the house.
- Watch out for large portion sizes, and consider sharing an entree or taking some leftovers home to have another day.
- When ordering ask yourself how you can use this meal to count towards your five fruits and vegetable per day.
Remember, any step you take to spending more time together as a family around a meal can greatly improve the physical, mental, and social health of your whole family. So who’s up for family dinner?
Find some great family activities on our community calendar!