When I was a kid, family dinners were a routine event. Most days of the week, my mom, my brother and I would sit down at the dining room table to eat our evening meal and talk about school, family, friends and whatever else came up.
These days, regular family dinners seem like a thing of the past. Long work days, time-consuming commutes and busy after-school schedules make it challenging for families to gather around the dinner table at the end of the day.
But the dying tradition may come at a cost, especially for teenagers. Studies show that the more often families eat together the more likely kids are to “say no” to smoking and drugs and excel academically. Regular family dinners also seem to shield kids from developing eating disorders and the negative effects of cyberbullying.
There are nutritional benefits too. Kids tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer unhealthy foods (e.g. soft drinks, fried and fatty foods) and are less likely to be obese when they regularly eat family dinners. Kids who eat dinner with their families consume more fibre, calcium and iron. (Studies find parents eat healthier too.) Family dinners also provide a forum for discussions about healthy foods choices at – and away from – home.
If your family’s weekday schedule prevents you from sharing dinner together, other mealtimes count too. Eating breakfast or lunch and dinners as a family on weekends can also foster communication and healthy eating habits.
Set a goal to have family meals, at least four times per week. If you find it difficult to get together with your family at the dinner table, the following eight strategies will help you get a healthy family meal on the table with time to spare.
Plan in advance
Get into a routine of planning weekly dinners. Set aside a time each week to map out a menu when you won’t be interrupted.
Consider your family’s schedule of extracurricular activities and make allowances for day’s you have little tome to get dinner on the table. Having a plan takes the stress out of figuring out what to make for dinner at the end of hectic day.
Ask for input
Involving family members in meal planning gets their buy-in. Post your weekly plan in a visible spot in the kitchen to remind everyone the meals that were jointly agreed upon.
Plan for leftovers
Consider how you can cook once to make two or more meals. Roast a large turkey breast for dinner and serve the leftovers for turkey quesadillas the next night. Grill extra chicken breasts to make chicken Caesar salad for tomorrow’s dinner.
Batch cook on the weekend
Make a batch of chili, soup or pasta sauce on the weekend and freeze for no-hassle weekday dinners. Even brown rice, quinoa and sweet potato can be made ahead and quickly reheated during the week.
Take advantage of time-savers in the grocery store such as pre-washed salad greens, chopped vegetables, shredded cabbage, grated cheese and minced garlic and ginger (great for stir-fries).
To make a quick homemade pizza, use frozen pizza dough, pita bread or whole grain flour tortillas.
Involve kids in meal prep
Participate children in meal planning, grocery shopping, meal preparation, even setting the table and clean up. Children who help prepare healthy foods are more likely to eat them and are more accepting of new foods.
Prepare a meal that gives kids a role (age-appropriate, of course) such as mixing ingredients, shredding lettuce, chopping vegetables or dressing the salad.
Family dinners help children to learn to like vegetables. If cooked vegetables aren’t a hit, no matter how may times offered, serve a try of assorted raw vegetables with hummus or tzatziki. (Pick one up at the grocery store if you’re pressed for time.)
Don’t discount frozen vegetables. They take only minutes to cook and are equally – or more – nutritious than their fresh counterparts, especially when fresh produce is out of season. (Frozen vegetables are processed and packaged almost immediately after harvest, locking in more nutrients.)
To connect with family members – and to eat mindfully – turn off smart phones and the television. The more distractions, the less beneficial the communication around the table.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.