We’ve all heard a million times how important it is to eat meals together as a family, but in practice few American families make it a priority. In 2010, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) released a comprehensive study looking at over a decade of data on family eating habits. Here are some of the benefits of family meal time:
- Children in families who eat together at least 5 times per week, have significantly lower rates of smoking, drinking, and illegal drug use as pre-teens and teenagers when compared to families that eat together two or fewer times per week.
- Teenagers who eat dinner 4+ times per week with their families have higher academic performance compared with teenagers who eat with their families two or fewer times per week.
- Dinner becomes a time to bond, plan, connect, share, and teach. Having predictable family mealtime fosters warmth, security and love.
- Home cooked meals are usually more nutritious than take out and frozen foods. Home cooked meals contain more fruits, veggies, whole grains, and is prepared with less salt. It is higher in nutrients such as fiber, calcium, folic acid, and essential vitamins such as A and C. Even if you order a pizza, your kids are more likely to eat veggies with it if you all sit down together as a family.
- Dinner time is learning time. Children learn manners and self-sufficiency. Every child can be included in the preparation – small children can set out napkins and rip lettuce for salads; older children can set out silverware and chop vegetables. When children participate in preparing their food they are more likely to eat it.
- Young children who eat meals regularly with their family are less likely to be overweight and less likely to become obese as they grow up.
- Does it still seem daunting to put on the apron after a long day at the office? Here are some tips:
- Set small goals. Start with 2 times per week. Once you see how easy it is, you can work your way up!
- Keep it simple. Find ways to turn leftovers into something new (roast chicken one night, pasta with chicken the next!). Throw fresh veggies into something otherwise simple (mac-n-cheese, chili).
- Prepare ahead. The only way I can get good meals cooked is if I plan out a week in advance and buy all the ingredients I will need. Fresh is great, but frozen veggies work just as well! No one is perfect, and the important thing is to find a way to make it work for you.
- Order in. If it’s “just one of those nights” don’t beat yourself up. Get some take out and sit down together. You’ll keep up your routine, connect with the family, and you are all still likely to eat more veggies than if you ate alone.
- Put the kids to work – they love it, it is a great time to connect, and six hands are faster than two (well.. sometimes…)
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