Many studies have confirmed that children who eat regular meals with their parents are more likely to experience the following benefits:
- Get enough nutrients in their daily diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Do well in school
- Stay away from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs
- Be happy with their present life and their prospects for the future
Family meals may be hard to arrange, but they're worth it.
Ideas to make it happen
Make an appointment for the family dinner.
Busy families have to make an effort to eat together. But it can be done. Post a family schedule in the kitchen, and circle the time you'll meet for the evening meal each night. If you have to rearrange your day or say no to an opportunity so you can make the meal—do it.
Teens and adults usually need 3 meals and one snack a day. Younger children may need to eat every 3 or 4 hours throughout the day. Set meal and snack times—and don't allow yourself to graze in between times. Drink water to tide you over. Did you know that thirst is often mistaken for hunger?
Have everybody help with cooking.
Even young children can help with cooking healthy foods at home — stirring, pouring, and washing foods as needed. Older children and teens can take over cooking duties some nights of the week.
When things get complex—keep meals simple.
You don't have to spend hours and hours cooking. Try things like bean burritos, homemade pizzas, baked chicken, salad, pasta with red sauce, whole-wheat pancakes, and grilled fish. Make a list of 6 or 7 quick healthy meals to work from.
Limit fast food.
Make it a family rule to eat fast food less than two times a month. You'll save money, feel better—and probably find that a simple homemade meal is just as fast.
Sit down and slow down.
Meal times should be restful, not rushed. Enjoy your food—and enjoy the company (without the TV on!). Aim to stay at the table for at least 30 minutes.
Eat only in the dining room or kitchen.
If you're eating in every room of the house, you're probably eating all the time. (You're probably dropping a lot of crumbs on the carpet, too.)
Don't eat in the car.
Plan enough time to go into the restaurant and sit down to eat. If you're traveling, look for a park or rest stop to picnic in.