NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Family Meals Matter!

family meals

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

There are many benefits of family meals. Families are more likely to eat a nutritious meal when most or all of the family eats together. Families who eat at home have control of portion sizes and ingredient choices. Children who eat with their families are likely to consume more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Research shows that adolescents are also less likely to smoke, drink, and use illegal drugs during their teen years. Enjoying meals together enhances family communications and improves manners, too. And, of course, there is a lifetime of positive memories that sharing meals together creates.

Engage your children in age-appropriate mealtime tasks when possible. The family meal does not have to be a formal dinner. A family meal can be a breakfast or even lunch. In fact, nutrition experts say that family meals don’t even have to be enjoyed around a table. The important factor is to eat together. If your schedule won’t accommodate a family meal around the kitchen table, opt for something different. In warm months, plan a picnic lunch before or after a game; have lunch at the park; plan a meal with grandparents or friends; or have family cook-outs.

The term “dining” implies a meal is more than just about the experience of eating; the atmosphere and social environment are equally important to the enjoyment of the meal.  Family can be as essential to a family dinner as eating is!

Experts recommend that families:

  • Eat together: All families are busy. Make eating together a family priority. Mealtime is a great opportunity for parents and kids to be together. Adults are important role models for kids and can influence foods they taste and learn to eat. Remember that kids often take more time to eat than adults do. Take your time through dinner, and enjoy the extra few minutes sitting at the table before cleaning up.

  • Turn off the TV: Turn off the television, radio, cell phone, and beeper so everyone can focus on the conversation without distraction. It is difficult to be attentive and engaged with others if the TV is on, so make sure it is off before everyone sits to eat. Let the answering machine pick up calls, or turn off the phone ringer to avoid dinner interruptions.

  • Share events of the day: Ask each person at the table to talk about a fun activity or something good that happened that day. It is a wonderful time to catch up on special school events or achievements of the kids in your family. Encourage kids to talk about exciting things that happened in their day and what they accomplished in class by asking gentle open ended questions. To nurture a sharing, open atmosphere, adults can share positive events and ideas too.

  • Make healthy choices: It is easier to make healthy choices when meals are prepared at home and families sit at the table together to share that meal. It is a good time to talk about and model healthy eating, portion sizes, and trying new foods.

Source:  eXtension.org

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