It is well known that in the United States we are faced with an obesity epidemic, especially in children and teens. This epidemic is related to unhealthy eating and lack of food preparation skills. Research has shown that the whole family benefits from family mealtime by having better nutrition, improving family communication, fostering family traditions, and teaching life skills, such as meal planning, budgeting, and food preparation.
Encouraging families to prepare simple, healthy meals and eat together supports the essence of family and consumer sciences: “Creating Healthy and Sustainable Families.” The goal of the Commit to “Dining In” campaign is to have 200,000 families take the pledge to make and eat a healthy meal together on December 3rd. You can take the pledge at the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences website http://www.aafcs.org/FCSday/index.html.
An even more in-depth study on overall emotional well-being as it relates to family meals found that family meals can nurture assets and life skills that contribute to overall emotional well-being of children. According to a research study by Dr. William Doherty, when asked which activities they could do on weekday afternoons would do the best job at helping them with these various skills and assets, children report that family dinners would help with the most. Empowerment and coping with stress were two assets that children hoped they had more of. In Dr. Doherty’s study there was a striking finding that children believe family dinners at home trump sports lessons, music/arts/dance and scouts/clubs as a way to help them with many life skills. Unfortunately family dinners are often missed to accommodate these other activities. Children ranked other activities a distant second to family dinners as a way to help them with most of these skills.
Here are some goals to aim for-
- Set a goal to have regular family meals at least three times per week, if possible. If not dinner it could be breakfast, lunch on weekends, or even a healthy evening snack.
- Keep mealtimes consistent. Even if mealtimes seem hectic or disorganized, the simple act of regular mealtimes can provide your child with stability.
- Turn off the TV and cell phones and ask Mealtimes have been noted as one of the most common times children communicate with parents, so guard your mealtimes from outside distractions. Ask your children about their day, school, friends, goals, etc.
What should the meals look like? The time crunch for families can make the idea of family meals seem like an impossible goal. Children don’t expect a gourmet meal.
- Have you thought about breakfast for dinner? Serve your favorite breakfast foods in the evening. Or conjure up fun breakfast foods you don’t have very often like toaster waffles spread with yogurt and fruit or breakfast burritos made of scrambled eggs, green or red pepper chunks and ham bits in a tortilla.
- Choose a meal that’s quick. Be creative with tasty box meals for your family. Start with a box of macaroni and cheese, rice or other grain mix. Add a little precooked chicken or leftover beef , beans or canned tuna. Or try tuna or salmon from a can. Be generous with adding fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. Sandwiches, cold milk and fruit may not be the gourmet meal you see in magazines, but it works for families who want to spend more time together. The key is make it quickly, but eat it slowly.
- Choose a made-ahead meal. A slow cooker is a family mealtime friend when life is busy. It smells great when you walk in and sets the mood for a comfort food meal. In the morning, sprinkle a beef or pork roast with lots of steak seasoning and put it over a bed of vegetables like potatoes, carrots and celery. By evening, the meal is ready! Serve with a green salad, and plan the next slow cooker combination with the family.
- Cook once, eat twice meals have become a staple of some busy families. Some cooks double every recipe that is freezable. Families enjoy lasagna or homemade soup one day, and the other half is wrapped, marked and dated for the freezer in individual or family size packages. On a particularly busy day, the family cook can defrost one or more of the meals, and reheat in the microwave.
By committing to eat together as a family and registering for the “Dine In” nationwide initiative you will be committing to lifelong habits that will benefit your family.