The Family Dinner: Nutrition and Nurturing
Why it's so important to eat together -- and how to find the time
My fondest memories are times spent lingering around the kitchen table with
family and friends, sharing meals and lively conversation.
When I was a child, my parents upheld the ritual of family dinners. The
dinner table was revered, with rules prohibiting lecturing, discipline,
curlers, bathrobes, undershirts -- anything less than proper attire and
behavior. My siblings and I grew up cherishing the undivided attention and love
that accompanied the ritual, as well as Mom's homey
The tradition has now been passed along to my children, who value and look
forward to family meals.
Connections and Communication
Sitting down for a family meal is a symbol of love, connections, and
communication. Family meals reflect involved parents, who want the opportunity
both to talk and to listen to what their kids have to say. It's very comforting
to children to know that their parents want to know what's going on in their
Mealtimes can provide quality time for the whole household, fostering family
unity and trust, and providing a setting for moral and intellectual discussions
that reflect family values. Family meals encourage communication skills, such
as patient listening and expressing opinions respectfully. Chatting around the
dinner table encourages kids to talk to their parents about sensitive issues.
This is also a time to reinforce family traditions and cultural heritage.
Family meals may actually enhance the emotional well-being of teens. A study
reported in the 2003 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found
that adolescents who frequently sat down to family meals had better grades,
less depression, and were less likely to drink alcohol, smoke, or use marijuana
than kids who ate with their families less than twice a week.
Power Up the Plate
But the benefits of family meals go beyond the warm fuzzy feelings and good
communication that happen when we dine together.
Studies verify what some might consider common sense: families that eat
together eat more healthfully, consuming less fast food, soft drinks, and fat
and more fruits and vegetables. And developing good eating habits early on can
help your children be healthier for the rest of their lives.
Making simple changes, one at a time, is the best way to get your family to
eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less fat. Start with working
more salads and vegetables into your meals. Then try a vegetarian meal once a
week, focusing on foods already familiar to your family like chili or
frittatas. Be creative, and remember it may take a few tries before a new food
Preparing meals at home us much more economical gives parents control over
both the quality and quantity of food. Sensible portion sizes need to be taught
at home so kids don't grow up thinking supersized is normal.
Many adults who struggle with their weight never really learned how to
identify hunger and fullness. Help your children understand how to eat until
they're comfortably satisfied but not full by letting them serve themselves as
early as age 5.
Dismiss the instinct to encourage your kids to clean their plates. This only
teaches them to follow visual cues when eating instead of tuning in to their
sense of satiety.