Starting a simple habit with your young child, like regularly eating meals together, can have a life-long impact. A day beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner as a family is more than a benefit of sharing plates of food though. It’s an opportunity to bond as a family, teach children table manners, share stories and experiences, and sample and learn about traditions, cultures and foods. But there are even greater benefits of family mealtimes.
According to The Family Dinner Project, some of the specific benefits of family dinners are:
- Better academic performance
- Higher self-esteem
- Greater sense of resilience
- Lower risk of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Lower risk of depression
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
- Lower rates of obesity
Sometimes it can be challenging for families to find the time to sit as a family and share a meal. Between work, school, child care, extra-curricular activities and other household demands, many families find that busy schedules conflict with family meal times. Try these tips to make it easier to find a time to share meals with your family.
- Plan your menu. Even planning meals a few days in advance makes it one less decision a family must make—and address—when it comes to a family meal. Even basic meals, like oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast, can change from day to day by the simple mix of fruits, jams, or nuts.
- Prepare food, or even just ingredients, beforehand. It’s much easier to throw together a meal, like stir-fry when the peppers and onions are chopped, and the cooked rice is waiting in the refrigerator. Wonder when you’ll find the time to prep food? Reserve a time in your schedule where each family member can help, like a Sunday afternoon. And don’t discount your little ones! Even young children can wash lettuce or scrub apples.
- Schedule your family meals. Sometimes families automatically add soccer practice, or Sunday service to their calendars, but may not think to add specific days for family meals. If schedules are busy, take the time to plan for family meals—even if it’s 20 minutes for breakfast three times a week, or every Wednesday night for dinner.
- Turn off technology. Let family mealtimes be a time for family—not tablets, phones or television. Without the distraction of technology, every family member can focus on each other.
Watch the video below from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service about how to make the most out of family mealtimes.