Make the Most of Family Dinners

How often do you eat dinner together as a family? If yours is like many American families, probably not often. Beyond the obvious social benefits, it’s important to keep in mind that gathering your clan around the table as often as possible can offer appreciable health benefits. Research shows that children who eat three or more meals a week with their families are 12 percent less likely to be overweight, 20 percent less likely to eat unhealthy foods, 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and 35 percent less likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors. Furthermore, families who dine at home rather than eating out generally consume 500 fewer calories per meal than they would eating a similar meal in a restaurant — a boon to maintaining a healthy weight. Follow these tips to help make your family mealtimes a priority — and a pleasure:

 

  1. Set a weekly mealtime schedule and menu. With everyone’s varied schedules, gathering your family for any meal may be challenging, but setting a regular time for dinner can make it easier for family members to plan ahead and be there. Additionally, creating a weekly meal plan can both simplify meal preparation and generate enthusiasm for the upcoming dishes. If outside commitments do begin to get in the way of the communal table, you can rearrange the schedule, but making dinnertime a priority will help teach your children — at any age — that dining together as a family is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

     

  2. Remove distractions from the dining room. With electronic devices dominating our everyday lives, there are many distractions that can prevent an uninterrupted meal. Unless you set rules, someone is bound to receive a text, answer a phone call, respond to an email, or zone out peeking at the TV in the other room, rather than engaging in a mealtime conversation. To help ensure an enjoyable dining experience, ask all your family members to switch off any devices that might interfere with your meal. Or better yet leave them on silent in a different room.

     

  3. Start a conversation. If silence typically reigns at your dining table, come prepared with some conversation-starters for your family. Ask each family member who’s old enough to contribute to share how their day went and what their plans are for the rest of the week. Start a discussion about current events, books, or articles anyone has read recently. Mealtime should be harmonious, so don’t allow arguing or teasing at the table.

     

  4. Share the kitchen. Once a week, have someone besides you help with a meal. It can be a fun way to teach older children and teens how to cook healthy dishes. Let your child help pick a healthy recipe, shop for the food with you, and prepare the dish (with your help only if necessary). Even younger children can participate to a lesser degree, making sandwiches or wraps, or simple salads, for example. Getting kids involved in food preparation from an early age has been shown to promote healthy eating habits throughout life.

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