Eating together as a family – however you define your family – has always been a good thing, but now it’s been shown to be a healthier thing, too. This September marks the 4th National Family Meals Month ™, a campaign started in 2015 by the non-profit Food Marketing Institute Foundation to encourage families to eat together more often.
And The Survey Says…
Here’s what a Nielson Harris poll, conducted last year, found about the campaign’s impact among consumers who saw it:
• 4 in 10 (42%) said they were cooking more meals at home.
• More than 3 in 10 are:
- Making healthier food choices
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Eating together more as a family
As a nutrition professional, these are big wins. But the bennies don’t stop there. Read on.
This publication from the University of Florida reviewed the benefits of family meals and found:
• Family meals are happening more often. Now 7 in 10 kids eat with their families at least four times a week.
• Family meals strengthen family bonds and teach an appreciation of cultural, ethnic, and religious heritage.
• Teens said that talking/catching up, and spending time with family members was the BEST PART of family meals. Huge win for families and a huge opportunity.
Something that’s better for nutritional, physical, and mental health, improves social behaviors, and contributes to a family’s overall feeling of happiness is as close to a “magic bullet” as you’re going to find. They’re certainly cheaper than eating out or getting take-out. Do they take a little time to prepare? Yes, but show me something, ANYTHING, that does a better job of helping you and your family be healthier and happier and save you money. There isn’t anything better for a family than a meal eaten together. Period.
So What Are the Barriers To More Family Meals?
Despite all these benefits from family meals, they aren’t happening often enough. The top obstacles cited in the FMI survey:
• Scheduling issues – everyone is in different places at meal times.
• Too tired to cook. Takeout or eating out seems easier.
• Too time-consuming to make meals.
• Too many distractions: social media, TV, homework.
But… What’s For Dinner?
Have you noticed that this nutritionist has mentioned very little about things like calories, fats, and added sugars in this post? I’m actually less interested in what you serve than the fact that you’re eating together.
Get the family meal ritual down first. The research has shown that once more family meals start happening, the quality of the meal starts advancing: more fruits and vegetables, fewer empty calories, less sugar and saturated fat. Eat together at home and you’re probably on your way to a better meal.
One rule though: No technology at the table. Each member has a place at the table because they matter. Yes, family meals can be part of esteem-building also
Getting Help: A Few Tips
• Delegate: Older kids an share some meal prep duties. It’s good for initiate communication without being “face-to-face”. Make sure to thank them for their help, too. It reinforces that they’re appreciated.
• Convenience if OK: Bagged greens, frozen veggies, and yes, canned foods like beans and tomato sauce are nutritious and save time. I encourage them.
• Set it up: before work, set the table, get out any pots or pans you’ll need, and anything non-perishable. It really shaves valuable time later.
Dinner IN 30 Minutes? Try Dinner FOR 30 Minutes
Eat more slowly, do more talking. The food won’t go away and you’ll enjoy it more. If the kids are done eating sooner, then have them stay for the full 30 minutes to make conversation. Make it a family tradition and try doing it as often as you can, because #FamilyMealsMonth matters, and it matters all year long.