BY MIMI GREENWOOD KNIGHT
Child development experts don’t always agree on what’s best for kids and families. But few deny the power of the family meal to help strengthen parent-child relationships, keep communication lines flowing, build children’s self-esteem, and teach lessons about etiquette, nutrition, and life. Just the act of sitting together as a family for a half-hour, sharing a meal, listening, and talking together can have a positive impact that lasts for decades.
Multiple studies have found that adolescents who regularly eat meals with their parents eat more fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and are less likely to be overweight. These same adolescents have fewer eating disorders, regardless of their demographic situation or body mass index. Because family meals have a beginning and end, they’re less likely to graze continually on junk food, and watching parents eat healthily can positively influence the nutritional choices they make.
Eating together offers kids a sense of stability, belonging, and connectedness. Children who eat dinner regularly with their families have been shown to have fewer behavioral problems and are more likely to achieve better grades in school.
When a young child eats at the table with adult family members, they develop better language skills as they hear the others talk about their day. They develop patience and dexterity as they manipulate utensils. And they learn important lessons about table etiquette and the art of taking turns.
Eating home-cooked meals is cheaper than eating take-out or grab-and-go meals. Statistically, a family of four looks to save about $40 per person, per week, by preparing and eating meals at the house. And the preparation can be fun family time. Get the kids involved in the cooking and prep work. Endless lessons await in the kitchen.
New Food Discoveries
Family meals are a great time to expose children to different foods and offer them more ways to enjoy obtaining the nutrition they need. Introduce new foods
as optional and welcome kids to give them a try. You might be surprised.
Healthier Fare, Smaller Portions
On average, anything you eat in a restaurant will contain more calories, more sugar, and more salt than something you’d prepare at home. And in our super-sized culture, restaurant portions are almost always more than we have any business eating. Consider how many times you’ve left a restaurant overstuffed. Portions are easier to control at home.
If you have a demanding job — and who doesn’t — time spent eating with your family can help you destress and remember why you do it all. In a Brigham Young University study, researchers found most working moms sitting down to a family meal reported reduced tension and strain from long hours at the office.
So, what’s for dinner? I’m starved.