Busy families may have less time to sit down to a traditional family meal, but research shows that making time for this ritual can help kids lead a healthier lifestyle now and in the future.
Dr. Jan Neece, a psychologist at Children’s Hospital, says studies have shown that teens who take part in regular family meals are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or use marijuana and other drugs.
She also says family meals can improve social-emotional health. It’s a great opportunity to talk, to help understand your child’s emotions, allow them to express themselves and for adults to practice listening to their children.
Neece says shared family meals are more likely to be nutritious. They can help teach kids to choose more healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and can cut down on snacking on unhealthy foods. This can lead to a healthier lifestyle as an adult.
Results are not guaranteed, but studies show that eating together as a family at least three times a week is associated with healthier kids. Neece says they encourage families to do this as often as possible for their family. A family meal can happen anytime. For example, breakfast is a good time for households where dinner rarely happens together.
Choose a time on the family calendar when everyone can be there. Purchase groceries earlier in the week. Freezer meals can help- double any popular family recipe and freeze half for another meal. Do any chopping of veggies or ingredients on the weekend to use in meals throughout the week- then keep it handy in the fridge when ready to use.
Involve the kids in preparations. Give younger kids simple tasks like setting the table, filling drinks and tossing the salad. Older kids may be able to get ingredients, wash produce, mix/stir and serve.
Focus on enjoying each other’s company during dinner and use it as a time to talk about your day and bond.