Setting aside the time to sit down and eat family meals is an easy and effective way to improve your family’s bond and your quality of life. While many people likely believe that sitting down to family meals is a thing of the past, a recent poll shows that 53% of adults with children under the age of 18 report eating dinner as a family six to seven nights per week.
If you have a busy schedule, the good news is that eating breakfast or lunch as a family will give you the same health benefits as eating dinner together. It is worth it in the long run to make the effort to tweak your activities and work schedule to make eating meals as a family a priority. Parents of teenagers may be surprised to know that 72% of teens think that frequent family dinners are important.
The Health Benefits of Eating Together
Research dating back centuries has noted that family meals promote family connectedness and may influence mental health. Studies have actually shown that children who sat down for meals with their family at least five times a week are less likely to develop mental disorders and obesity in adulthood.
Studies have also shown that teens who eat frequent meals with their family are less likely to engage in risky behaviors than those who do not. For example, teens who do not sit down to family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco and almost twice as likely to drink alcohol than those who regularly have family meals. Additionally, teens who seldom eat with their families are much more likely to report that they can access marijuana and prescription drugs in under one hour if they wanted.
When families sit down to meals, it allows time for parents to communicate with their children about what is going on in their lives. Without this time together, teens often keep their business to themselves and rarely speak to their parents about their day.
Common Barriers to Family Meal Time
Single men have been found to be less likely to sit down to meals compared to men who are married. Additionally, married women are more likely to sit down and eat with their children than married men.
The parents’ work schedule often dictates their ability to sit down and eat with their family. In this case, it is important to adjust your family mealtime and perhaps opt to eat breakfast together instead of dinner.
If you want to stick with dinner, the earlier you eat dinner, the healthier it is for your body. You should ideally eat at least three hours before going to bed. During this time, you are at your most metabolically lowered state, which will promote good overall health and prevent cellular damage.
Family Meals to Promote Family Health
It is best for your family to eat real food and avoid processed foods, fast food, and snacks that are full of sugar. It is also important to drink plenty of water and avoid artificial and sugary beverage. While eating together as a family provides a great social value, it can also be a time to offer the family healthy food.
Family breakfast frequency is associated with markers of a higher quality diet because it helps to set the tone for the day for every member of the family. Start everyone off with a high-quality meal that comes from real ingredients and they will be more likely to make better food choices throughout the day.
In fact, research has shown that children who don’t eat meals with their parents at least twice each week are 40% more likely to be overweight than children who do.
Keep the Focus on the Family
A successful family meal should focus around conversations among the family rather than media outlets. Limited media use during mealtime is associated with better health in children, which makes it important to put away smartphones, tablets, and TV during meals. Instead, use this time to connect with your family and listen to what they have to say.
One idea is to try involving your children in the process of preparing dinner and getting their input on what should be on the menu for the night. This is a good time to ask about your child?s day. Parents need to use family meal time as an opportunity to engage with their children.
If you need to find some inspiration for things to talk about, The Family Dinner Project provides conversation starters that are grouped together by different ages. These conversation starters are meant to spark a deeper conversation about things that are going on in each other’s lives.
Having a meal planning strategy can help you to plan out a week’s worth of meals to set yourself up for family meal success. Planming meals will help you eat healthier and will help you cut back on food waste because you can use the same ingredients for multiple dinners throughout the week. This also helps to lessen the stress of figuring out what is for dinner throughout the week.
Meal planning can also help you save time if you cook things in bulk and freeze them to use in the future. It can also help you to plan for lunches during the week if you anticipate having leftovers from dinner.
You will likely find that the more often your family is able to sit down and eat together, the more they will want to continue to do it. If you believe that eating together as a family is important, you have to make it a priority in your life. Whether this means getting up early for breakfast or scheduling everyone to be home during dinner time, it is important to strive to eat together as often as possible to help increase the health of your family.
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