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Family Meal Time…YES, It’s Important!

JoanBahr_thumbBy Joan Bahr, MS, RD, CDE at Southwest Health

Between work, chores, activities, and more it can be hard to make time to sit down at the table together and eat as a family; especially when everyone’s schedules are different. We may all have the best intentions when thinking about planning a family mealtime, but did you know that not making time for them can be detrimental? Let’s consider the statistics…With family mealtimes, the average child may is:

  • 35% less likely to ever have an eating disorder
  • 24% more likely to eat healthier foods
  • 12% less likely to be overweight

Do family meals seem overwhelming? Remember, the focus on family mealtime doesn’t have to cause increased stress for meal preparation. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Set a goal. Three a week, perhaps? Build from there. They don’t all need to be dinners!
  • Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, like chili or a favorite casserole.
  • Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Get the family involved. Enlist the help of younger family members in setting the table, making a quick salad, or pouring the milk. Family has many definitions – it can be a husband and wife, a single parent and one child, or a mom and dad with four children; it may include grandparents. The key is to include everyone at the dinner table.
  • Use the crock pot. Put everything together in the evening before bed or before leaving for work in the morning. You’ll come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal. Add milk and a fresh salad, and you’ll have a delicious meal!
  • Make it enjoyable. Leave the serious discussions for another time. Family meals are for nourishment, comfort, and support.
  • Set the mood. Here’s another hint — no TV allowed, and no cell phones answered! This is time for listening to each other, sharing the day’s stories, and nurturing the family connection.

What do we make?

Consider quickly prepared home meals using fresh ingredients, including fruits and vegetables. Consider everyone’s favorite meals. What are your family’s favorites? Can you make them easily?

You can also search the internet or Pinterest for quickly prepared foods. The website – thefamilydinnerproject.org/food offers choices for one-pot wonders, using what you have on hand. And it includes a variety of recipes that may hit your family’s culinary taste buds in the sweet spot.

Kidseatright.org, a website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has many recipes that are quick, nutritious, and inexpensive to prepare. A recipe from this website can be found at the end of this blog following the resources.

What do we talk about?

There are many resources on the internet for questions to ask at the dinner table based on the age of the family members. Keep the conversation positive, keep everyone involved, and stay non-judgmental. Here are some ideas for conversation starters based on the ages:

  • Ages 2-7: Name three things that are fun for you. What is your favorite summer food to eat?
  • Ages 8-13: What’s the funniest or strangest thing that happened to you today? What are you most looking forward to about a new school year (or fall)? Who is the most patient person you know? How can you tell they are patient?
  • Ages 14-100: What was the best year of your life so far? Explain. Who is/was your favorite teacher? Why?

Benefits of a family meal are many – everyone eats healthier, family members control their weight better, and your loved ones foster an important communication bond.

Joan Bahr, MS is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Southwest Health in Platteville. Joan works with families to help them make food choices that will positively impact their health for years to come. Joan and her husband also raise grain and cattle. Between them, they have three children and seven grandchildren. Joan is also an avid half-marathon walker. She can be reached at Southwest Health 608.342.5025 or at Epione Pavilion 608.744.3966.

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