Updated in July 2015 by the Manitoba Association of Home Economists
Are family meals a thing of the past? Are we missing an important event as we rush out to activities or work late? The family meal can offer more than nutrients and energy. It gives us a chance to slow down, reconnect and recharge.
According to one report, less than half of U.S. children 9-14 years old said that they eat dinner with their family daily and 17% stated that they never eat family meals. Yet, studies show that children who have more frequent family meals are less likely to have unhealthy eating habits. They are less likely than their peers to smoke and use alcohol or drugs. They are also more likely to do better in school and have less depressive symptoms than their peers. Perhaps they feel closer or more connected to their families.
Family meals are important to the overall well being of children. Here are a few ideas to help make it easier for busy families to eat meals together.
- Encourage all family members to help with meal planning and preparation. Children as young as two or three years old can help set the table or mix ingredients. Cooking together helps children to learn valuable life skills and family members to share some of the day’s events.
- Plan ahead so that all ingredients are available. If time is a factor, use shortcuts like convenience products that are either partially or completely prepared and then add your own touches. Purchase or make “ready to add” foods and mixes to reduce preparation time at home. Try making a double batch of a favourite recipe and then freeze part of it for a meal when you are rushed. Bake meat loaf, for example, in muffin or small loaf pans, remove and freeze extras. Don’t limit foods to a certain meal. Pancakes can make a quick and easy dinner meal.
- Set aside one night during the week to celebrate a family member. They could choose the meal that night, the music with dinner and even a special plate. Try theme meals like colour night where as many foods as possible are one colour. Story meals are fun. One person starts a story and then passes it on to the next family member who then adds to the story until all members have had a chance. Create your own rituals.
If family meals are not part of your household routine, start slowly. Begin by sharing at least one meal together each week. It does not have to be the dinner meal or an elaborate meal. Regular family meals help build healthy eating habits and nourish family ties.
WRITTEN BY THE PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONISTS OF SASKATCHEWAN
Originator: Barb Wright, Sun Country Health Region
Editing Buddy: Cathy Davis, Sun Country Health Region; Cathy Ryan Saskatoon Health Region
Eat Better, Eat Together Website, nutrition.wsu.edu/ebet/index.html
Fulderson, J.A., Story, M., Mellin, A., Laffert, N., Neumark-Sztainer, D., French, S. A., “Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviours”, Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, pp. 337-345, 2006.
Ikeda, J., “Promoting Family Meals and Placing Limits on Television Viewing: Practical Advice”, Journal of American Dietetic Association, 107 (1), pp. 62-63.
Public Health Nutritionists of Saskatchewan Working Group and Dairy Producers of Saskatchewan. Menu Planning for Health, 2006.
Shanks, Naomi, “It’s Hard to Do Dinner Together”, Public Health Nutritionists of Saskatchewan Working Group, October 2004.