Contributed by Wendy Palmer, MS, RD, LD, CHES
It seems like such a simple part of life, but it’s one that many families are not prioritizing: family mealtimes. Many of us are overbooked, overscheduled and find it hard to fit in a time where the whole family can sit down together and enjoy a meal. I know this well. On most days, I battle Atlanta traffic, a full-time job and two kids who need to get from school to evening activities most nights—leaving little to no time for dinner in between. This is the reality for many families today, and being in the field of nutrition doesn’t really make it any easier to navigate.
The benefits of eating meals together as a family are plentiful. Research consistently shows that children consume more nutritious foods, eat more fruits and veggies, get better grades at school and engage in less high-risk behavior when family meals are a regular practice at home. Teens who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are less likely to use alcohol, marijuana or tobacco. In addition, it offers a powerful opportunity for parents to connect with their children. Consider what level of priority family mealtimes are for you and how you can work to make them more frequent. Start small by adding one extra family mealtime to your current routine.
Here are some tips for a positive family mealtime experience:
Plan ahead to save time. Meals don’t have to be fancy, but it’s important to provide a healthy, balanced meal for your family. For tips on how to meal plan, a grocery store list and crock pot recipe ideas, check out Strong4Life.com.
Keep the conversation positive. Mealtime is a great time to hear about your child’s day, learn about their friends at school and talk about what experiences they had that day. Try to save more stressful conversations, about things like poor grades, discipline or other unpleasant subjects, for another time.
Don’t discuss your child’s eating habits. The best and strongest influence over what your child will eat is repeated exposure to healthy foods and trusted role models. Don’t spend mealtime battling over getting your child or teen to eat their veggies. The best thing you can do is happily eat your veggies in front of them. Too much pressure to eat can make mealtimes unpleasant. It’s also important to serve the same food to everyone at the table; no special options for picky eaters.
Remove the distractions. Yes, that means turn off the TV, put your devices on silent and leave them out of sight. Eliminating distractions, like your work email, your cellphone or the TV, allows you to focus on your family and connect with them. Let’s be honest, the distractions can wait, and your family deserves your undivided attention. Check out Strong4Life’s tips for a digital detox.
Be sure to check out Strong4Life.com for more tips and tricks on eating healthy with your family.
Wendy Palmer is a manager of wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta working on Strong4Life. Wendy lives in Dacula with her husband, two sons and their three dogs. When she is not working, she enjoys running, cooking and spending time being active with her kids. Wendy has a passion for child and family wellness.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta created Strong4Life to help busy parents raise healthier families. Strong4Life does this by focusing on three strategies: arming parents with the resources they need at home, training healthcare providers, and impacting children at school and in other environments where they learn and play. As a parent, you are the greatest influence in your child’s life. This is why one of Strong4Life’s primary strategies is to equip parents with resources they need at home. Strong4Life.com is a dedicated resource, created by trusted Children’s experts, to help families with quick tips and resources to help inspire and motivate you in this daily battle of raising a healthy family.