By Kristen Hung, MPH, RDN
Lack of time and energy, distractions, lack of cooking skills, differing
taste preferences and schedules…these are just a few obstacles
to family meals today, yet many Americans value family meals and desire
to eat at home more with their families. September is National Family
Meals Month and is the perfect time to bring your family back to the table.
Family meals have been shown to provide many benefits including social,
emotional, financial, and health related benefits. Eating with family
helps children exhibit pro-social behaviors including sharing, respect,
and fairness. Family meals also promote better relationships with children
and are linked to higher grades, higher self-esteem, delayed sexual activity,
and lower risk of drug use and other risky behaviors. Adults benefit from
higher dietary quality with home-prepared meals, better self-regulation
eating with others, and lower risk of obesity.
Despite knowing the benefits of family meals, it remains a struggle for
many to overcome the barriers that seem to interfere with regular meals
together with loved ones. Keep
MEALS in mind with the following tips for making eating with your family a priority:
M –Meaningful But Modest Goals – If you are currently eating together as a family only once or
twice a week, it may be difficult to increase to daily family dinners.
Instead, set a modest goal such as increasing family meals by one more
meal each week. Given that we eat several meals alone or away from home
currently, we have several opportunities to make a change! One additional
meal together as a family can be a meaningful change if incorporated into
ongoing rhythms of family life.
E – Engage Your Eaters – Whether your family includes kids, parents, roommates, friends,
or neighbors, engage your eaters in the meal planning and preparation
process. When planning meals, gather ideas and preferences from your eaters.
Consider scheduling a day when the kids help prepare the meal. Share cooking
and cleaning duties to lighten the load.
A – Activate With MyPlate – Don’t know where to start when planning family meals? Keep
it simple and aim to follow the MyPlate method for meal balance. Aim to
have fruits and veggies with all meals and include a source of protein
as well as some high fiber carbohydrates such as brown rice or quinoa.
This could be as simple as hummus and veggie sandwiches with a side of
fruit – if you keep it simple, making a meal won’t feel as
daunting! Visit choosemyplate.gov for more info and ideas.
L – Learn As You Go – If you feel lack of cooking skills is a barrier, remember that
even great chefs started with the basics! Start with what you know and
build on your current skills. Know how to scramble an egg? Try making
a veggie omelet next. Learn basic skills like how to steam veggies, bake
fish/chicken, and make rice and oatmeal. You can even learn many of these
basics through tutorials on YouTube. Ready to try a recipe? Consider an
app like Tasty that provides recipes and instructional videos. Try not
to get discouraged if something doesn’t come out quite right the
first time. Make some adjustments and try it again. The more you practice,
the better you get!
S – Sync Your Schedules – Are you juggling three or more different schedules? Perhaps it’s
time to sit down with your family and discuss your commitments. It may
take saying no to some opportunities to be able to have space for more
time as a family around the table. Furthermore, be creative when finding
times to eat together; family meals don’t always have to happen
over dinner. Weekends are great times for family breakfasts and lunches.
You can also try waking up a few minutes earlier during the week to have
breakfast together at the start of the day. A family calendar can be a
great way to organize activities and plan ahead for meals together.
Though it may take a little effort, prioritizing meals together as a family
can provide immeasurable benefits for your family’s health and well
being. Celebrate National Family Meals Month today by making meals together
matter in your family!