Eating together as a family can sometimes feel overwhelming. Everyone has such busy schedules these days. Getting everyone off to work, school, and then activities after, doesn’t leave much time for sitting down for a meal. Plus, who wants to think about making dinner at the end of the day? Then it’s time to do it all over again the next day. Add on the chore of making lunches on top of that.
There are lots of reasons why we don’t eat meals together as much as we would like. However, there far more benefits to family mealtimes than we realize. Just keep in mind to not put too much pressure on dinner. Also, don’t think that family meals have to happen every day.
We usually think of the evening meal as being the most important time for a family to gather. Breakfast, or brunch, on the weekend, might work for your family before everyone heads out the door to go their separate ways. Lunch can work as a family meal too! Look for opportunities to eat together anytime.
One of the most important things to know is that family meals have emotional advantages for all members of your family. Studies have shown that frequent family meals are associated with better family functioning, stronger relationships, and better social and emotional health for parents! Children of families that eat meals together feel more supported, secure, and safe, if the environment is positive. Children who join the family table and are pressured to eat, or punished for their food choice or eating behaviors, may not reap the benefits of this type of family gathering.
Mealtime is also a great time to promote communication and prevent behavioral problems. The predictability of sitting for mealtime at regular times during the day can reassure a child. Conversation and teaching manners further equip children with the social expectations at the table. A Healthy and positive family meal may contribute to a healthy child and normal growth in children. There may be a greater tendency at a family sit-down meal to serve balanced meals with all the food groups, and less likelihood of overly processed convenience items.
As kids grow and interact with food and their environment, they develop their relationship with food. A trusting and pressure-free environment at the table helps cultivate a positive relationship with food and eating. Too much pressure to eat, punishment or bribing at the table, or constant nagging about unhealthy food choice can cause a strained relationship with food.
Ideas to help make eating together a little less stressful.
- Dividing tasks, so that one person alone is not responsible for preparing food, serving, and washing dishes. These jobs can be shared, even the younger members of the family can participate.
- A fun idea you can try is a job jar. Sit down together as a family and talk about some of the jobs that need to be done before and after mealtime. Write them down and put them in a jar for each family member to choose from before you start your meal.
- Jobs 2- 3 years old children can help with: washing vegetables and fruits in the sink, add items to dishes (like cheese to the crock pot), Helping find ingredients in the fridge or the cupboard, setting the table
- 3-4 years old: measuring ingredients, making simple sandwiches or pizza, mashing potatoes, loading the dish washer.
- 4-6 years old: assemble foods like smoothies with some adult assistance, slice soft- cooked vegetables, soft fruits, cheese or tofu with a plastic knife, crack and beat an egg.
Create a menu for the week.
Sitting down and planning out what you will make for the week not only saves time but can also help you keep to a budget. Have members of the family help with this. That way everyone has input. Some children may be picky eaters. While the food they prepare might not always make it to their fork, try to be patient knowing that helping prepare and plan the meal helps a picky eater warm up to the idea of trying new foods. It can take between 10 to 15 exposures to get a child to like a new food. It also helps children try new foods if they see others eating the same foods, so making one meal for everyone to eat is beneficial.
Simplify your meals
There is nothing wrong with simplifying your meals. You don’t always have to have a fancy meal. It’s okay to make English muffin pizzas and salad for a meal when you are short on time.
Prepare your meals ahead of time
If you can prepare your meals ahead of time and freeze for a quick heat up later, it’s especially helpful on the days that you have a limited amount of time. This will save you time and stress.
Castle, Jill (2022). The Nourished Child