More than just a Meal
When families eat meals together, kids of all ages do better. This is the conclusion from the majority of scientific studies performed over the last twenty years. Regardless of family structure - single parent, step-family or traditional family – children of families who eat meals together show benefits in school work, reduced risky behavior, and better eating habits.
Children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to be overweight, chose unhealthy foods, and demonstrate disordered eating. They are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Adolescents in families who share meals are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, use marijuana, and engage in premarital sex. The effects of family meals are not always related to feelings of closeness in the family, but are probably more likely to due to talking about the day, sharing stories and emotions, and the active problem solving that takes place both in gaining feedback about stories and negotiating family “air time.” Eating together has been shown to have long-lasting protective effects against the development of substance abuse for girls. In one study, young women who ate dinner with their families as teenagers were still less likely to abuse substances five years later.
Many mothers report wanting to cook family meals, but not doing so as often as they would like due to limited time and multitasking at mealtime. So, what sorts of strategies can help?
Making family meals a priority is the first step in increasing their frequency. After setting this intention, planning is the
next most important strategy.
It helps to have a written plan for all meals and snacks for the week and to create a shopping list that includes the necessary foods. Shopping is more efficient with a list that is organized around planned meals.
After shopping, use some time to prepare the food that you have brought home. Some fruits and vegetables can be washed, cut and stored ready for quick use.
A couple of main dishes, for example a soup or a slow cooker meal, can be made right on the spot after shopping so that not all meals need to be prepared in the evenings when homework, meetings, and sports practice complete for meal preparation time.
When menus are written and posted, the information does not have to be kept in mind which reduces the stress of meal planning and last minute meal decisions.
Mothers say that they want to involve their children in meal preparation, but worry about the increased time and mess involved. So children have to be assigned realistic and helpful functions. Children can set the table which is an essential part of meal preparation. They can act as “sous chef” by helping to wash vegetables and fruit, fetch and carry utensils and ingredients, and read recipes.
The family meal is an important family ritual that imparts meaning on many levels through thought, emotion, and behavior. It conveys and provides care, concern, and long-term protection. It is more than just a meal.
Written by Lisa Hinz PhD
Written on Apr 28, 2013
Last updated on Apr 13, 2015