There's good news on the family meal front! Seventy-three percent of families reported eating at home daily in 2010, up from 52 percent in 2003. If you're not already onboard, start now by making a commitment to eating at least one meal together each week. Sunday night dinner is a loved tradition by many families. Make it one in your home too by turning it into a family affair.
Family meals are especially important for kids, says child nutrition consultant Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD, author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids. "The statistics are powerful," she adds. Kids who eat with their families have healthier eating habits, tend to be at a healthier weight and do better in school. And there's more. "Eating together improves family bonding and improves young children's verbal skills. And teens and tweens who eat three or more family meals per week exhibit less depression, substance abuse, disordered eating and other risky behaviors."
Get Everyone Involved
So how can you make the family meal fit into your family's busy schedule? Start with a good plan and some organization, suggests Vandana Sheth, RD, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Plan your menu and shop for your groceries in advance, so cooking is the only thing left to do Sunday evening. Make sure each family member knows that everyone is to be home for dinner at a certain time. And get everyone involved to share the work and feel good about making a contribution. No matter the age, kids can help plan the meal, set the table, prepare the food and clean up, Sheth says.
Little kids can practice counting skills by getting the right number of forks and napkins for the table. Teens love the independence they have when shopping for groceries. Hand them some money and a grocery list and allow them to pick out an extra vegetable or some bread for dinner. Get all hands in the kitchen for food prep too. Making salad? Bring a stool to the sink for younger children to wash the vegetables. Older kids can chop them. When preparing mashed potatoes, you or an older child can cut and cook the potatoes. Little ones will love the mashing. Ask someone to pick out and prepare a fruit dessert too.
Add some fun and excitement with food themes, suggests Sheth. Cover the table with a checkered cloth for an Italian meal. Or cook up some Chinese food and eat with chopsticks. Throw a blanket out and sit on the floor for a family picnic. Let everyone choose a theme and you'll see that your choices are endless. Now that you're enjoying the meal, keep everyone involved in conversations by asking each person to share something that happened that day or week that was funny, weird, scary, good or bad.
Before you know it, family dinner will be a time that everyone looks forward to.