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The Family Dinner: Nutrition and Nurturing

Why it's so important to eat together -- and how to find the time

Be a Role Model

Parents play a big role in shaping children's eating habits. When parents eat a variety of foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber, children learn to like these foods as well.

Your commitment to a healthy diet will encourage your children to recognize the importance of good nutrition. This can carry over into settings where kids make their own choices. If your child eats lunch at school, review the weekly lunch menu with your child and make suggestions for healthier options.

I am proud to say that the children of this dietitian have gotten the message and for the most part prefer healthful food. When my son was in college he  negotiated an increase in his food allowance to help pay for the added costs of more nutritious fare at fast-food and neighborhood restaurants.

Remember that mealtime is an excellent time to teach your children proper behavior as well as good nutrition. Actions speak louder than words, so teach your children by showing instead of telling. Be a role model for good eating habits and good table manners.

Lifestyles of the Busy and Harried

Most families are coping with long workdays, after-school activities, and otherwise hectic lifestyles. Too often, family meals are the first thing to get squeezed out of the schedule.

Don't think that dining together has to be a throwback to days of June Cleaver. Family meals don't have to be fancy; they can be made up of easy dishes that you enjoy together a few times a week. Family meals are really about uninterrupted time together, when phones go unanswered, the television is turned off, and the conversation flows.

Here are some tips to help you turn the dream of relaxed family meals into a reality:

  • Establish a minimum number of family meals per week that suits your lifestyle. Start slowly, and build up to a number that works with everyone's schedule.
  • Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand so that preparation is easy and less time-consuming. Be sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep it simple. Family meals don't need to be elaborate, just balanced, with plenty of healthful ingredients. Make meals that appeal to everyone in the family.
  • Get the family involved in preparing meals and setting the table. If your children don't learn basic kitchen skills, they'll regret it by the time they're off to college.
  • Cook a big pot of something delicious during the weekend for easy meal prep on busy weekdays. Or try a crock-pot dish that you put together before leaving for work in the morning, and come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal.
  • Picking up take-out, ordering pizza, or going out to eat still counts as a family meal. Even when you don't cook at home, take uninterrupted time to eat and enjoy one another's company.
  • Make mealtime enjoyable so children will treasure the ritual. Leave the serious discussions and disciplinary action for some other time. Family meals are for healthy nourishment, comfort, and support.
  • Share the family ritual with friends and extended family members. Kids love to eat dinner at their friend's homes, and often discover new foods that way.
  • Be flexible. Toddlers and young children have a tough time sitting still and will only last a short time at the family meal.
  • Play soothing music, put flowers on the table, or light a candle to create a relaxing environment.
Reviewed on June 04, 2008

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