By Kathleen Riggs
American families who eat a meal together every day are in the minority. In today’s fast-paced world, Sunday family dinner is a big tradition, but it’s a big step away from more regular time spent eating and socializing around the table – the norm just a generation ago.
In recognition of its importance, September has been designated National Family Meals Month. Why all the fuss about sitting down for a routine that might only take 15-20 minutes? The benefits are numerous.
The Utah State University Extension’s Create Better Health Utah (SNAP-Ed) program lists some of the benefits — particularly for children whose families eat together five or more times a week, as opposed to those whose families eat together twice or less a week meal:
* Nutrition and Physical Development – Children eat more fruits and vegetables, get a greater variety of nutritious foods, have less childhood obesity and make healthier choices when they are alone.
* Emotional Development – Adolescents are better able to cope with negative emotions, are less likely to develop eating disorders, and have more positive interactions with others.
* Social Development – Children learn important idioms, have improved communication skills, and learn appropriate ways to share thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
* Academics – Children are more likely to get A’s and B’s in school and develop larger vocabularies – even more so than those who read with their parents.
* Behavior – Adolescents are much less likely to use marijuana, alcohol or tobacco, or have friends who use these substances. They are also less likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as premarital sex.
When a family is new to the idea of eating together, there will no doubt be some challenges. For example, it may be unrealistic to go from zero to one meal together every day. So set a realistic goal that all family members can agree on – it can only be Sunday lunch once a week, and that’s a good start. If dinner is not the best option, Saturday family breakfast might be more suitable for you.
Here are some additional tips to make family dining a positive experience:
* Plan meals in advance.
* Plan a fixed time for meals.
* Get all family members involved in meal prep and cleanup.
* Turn off televisions, phones and all other electronic devices.
* Have pleasant conversations, leaving discipline and other negative emotions behind for another time.
Additional resources are available from Create Better Health Utah, including ideas for conversation starters and meal prep using topics (eg, Taco Tuesday). There are also ideas for menu planning with recipes such as citrus chicken salad, oatmeal nut pancakes and honey glazed chicken. You’ll also find tips on preparing food, eating healthier, and incorporating physical activity into your day.
Find out more about family meals and healthy eating on a budget here. You can also contact your local USU Extension office to find out about upcoming Create Better Health Ambassador classes in your area.