While what we eat affects our health, it’s not the only factor for improving our well-being. Our social environment, community and family support can also be influential. While eating together as a family sounds great in theory, it may not always be possible or practical. There are after-school sports and activities, work meetings and commitments, rush-hour traffic and multiple chores and errands that are sometimes non-negotiable.
However, even the occasional meal with family can be beneficial. Here’s how eating together may bolster your health:
IT HELPS BOOST NUTRITION
Family meals are linked to overall healthier eating patterns. One study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found just having parents present at the evening meal was positively associated with a higher consumption of fruits, vegetables and dairy products among adolescents.
In another study of more than 3,000 elementary school students, those who had more frequent family dinners showed better eating habits (consuming more fruits and vegetables and fewer saturated fats, trans fats and sugar-sweetened beverages) and regular meal consistency. They also consumed healthy foods more frequently, compared to those who didn’t have family dinners as often.
IT’S AN OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT
As technology becomes more universal, it’s increasingly difficult to carve out time for one-on-one connections. Family meals offer a wonderful opportunity for bonding and catching up, boosting mental and emotional health. What’s more, eating together at a distraction-free table encourages mindful eating and helps prevent overeating.
IT GETS KIDS INVOLVED IN COOKING AND FOOD PREP
From planning weekly meals to grocery shopping, preparation and cooking, family meals offer members an active role in the process. To encourage children’s involvement, consider letting them choose the recipe, ingredients or help prep vegetables, mix batter or stir soups. Kids can also take turns setting and clearing the table. This helps them forge a deeper connection with the meal, setting them up for healthy eating habits moving forward.
IT IMPROVES SELF-CONFIDENCE
Eating as a family is a fabulous way to encourage trying new foods, but it can also enhance family dynamics and relationships. Children and adults alike gain more confidence when they feel needed. By creating a positive environment around mealtime with set expectations, all family members can gain security and a sense of belonging, as well as have something to look forward to. Parents can also use family meals as an opportunity to offer praise and encouragement to children.
IT ADDS STRUCTURE TO BUSY SCHEDULES
Family meals offer structure to our days. That being said, allow some flexibility and creativity in your family meals, as what works for one family may not work for another. If nights are too busy with varying schedules and commitments, try for a family breakfast. As a bonus, creating structure around meals throughout the week can also help save on groceries and reduce food waste.