The Thanksgiving meal is the perfect time to reflect and give thanks for the important things in life—our health, family, and friends. It’s also a time to start a new mealtime routine. The percentage of families who eat together is decreasing, according to the Child Trends Databank. With today’s busy schedules, it’s easy to understand why the family meal may be an easy thing to let fall by the wayside. However, family meals are not only a time for strengthening family ties and keeping track of what is going on in your children’s lives, but they can actually lead to better physical and mental health for your children!
Frequent family meals are related to better nutritional intake and a decreased risk for unhealthy weight control practices and substance abuse, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the University of Minnesota. Another study completed at Harvard in 2000 similarly revealed that families who ate meals together “every day” or “almost every day” consumed higher amounts of important nutrients such as calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6 and B12, C and E, and consumed less overall fat, compared to families who “never” or “only sometimes” ate meals together.
What counts as a family meal? Any time you sit down together and eat which can be breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or even snacks. Try to make it a time when the whole family can be together and aim to serve nutritious home cooked food. Of course, being together and having leftovers or takeout is much better than not being together at all! Having family meals might seem like a daunting task, but it’s possible if you try some of the following strategies:
- Talk with your children about new changes before implementing them. They are less likely to resist new changes if they are aware of them ahead of time.
- Include your children in the process. Have them help set the table, plan the menu for the week, grocery shop, and cook. For younger children, let them make placemats and then laminate them—they’ll be so proud of their addition to the family table.
- Have one “kids choice night” where your kids can choose what the family will eat for dinner (or at least one item in the meal).
- Take your kids to the market with you and let them help pick out new foods to cook and get them involved in preparing new recipes. The more they are involved in the process, the more likely they will want to sit down with the family and actually eat new foods.
- Allow teenagers to invite a friend over for dinner. They will enjoy the meal more (and so will you) and think you are a little “cool” for doing this.
- Keep mealtimes positive and calm (no arguing or lectures). In fact, all experiences related to food should be kept positive.
- Make sure that you are a positive role model for your children. They are watching you! Try to practice healthful eating habits… incorporate nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, lean protein, whole grains, and “healthy sources of fat” into your meals and snacks.
When you’re making new changes in any facet of your life, always start with small achievable goals. If you’re not already eating together, start by having a family meal once per week. Then build on that. You can do whatever you set your mind to, especially if it helps improve the health of your family.
Happy and healthy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
~ Nicole Meadow, MPN, RD