Family meals…why are these important and how can it change our perspective of nutrition and the purpose of food? Many people these days say they haven’t had a family meal in a long time, and rarely eat with others or on a regular mealtime schedule. This is becoming an increasingly common behavior and has long-term consequences that many of us don’t even realize!
Busyness is a common theme amongst American families these days. With work, school, and extracurricular commitments, there ends up being a lot more rushed meals in the car on the way to soccer practice than sitting around the dinner table. Regardless of whether you live in a one or two parent household, family meals can be beneficial physically, relationally, and developmentally.
The study I am basing this blog post off of is a peer-reviewed article from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. This is a long but very intriguing article that I encourage you to read if you have further interest in this topic! The main finding of this research is as follows: sharing meals with family results in better dietary outcomes across the lifespan than those that eat alone. Let’s explore this more.
1.Physically: It is well known that eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins and dairy products are good for our health. Eating meals together as a family oftentimes means that more meals will be cooked at home, and home-cooked meals are generally lower in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat than fast-food or takeout. Cooking meals at home can be a fun way to explore new ingredients and recipes with your loved ones that you otherwise may be hesitant to try on your own. Implementing a variety of nutrient-dense foods can be critical in reducing our risk for developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. Who doesn’t want that?
2.Relationally: Sharing meals together as a family allows time to have a conversation about each others day, which especially provides an outlet to children and adolescents to vent their frustrations in a healthy and supportive environment with trusted adults. Knowing that you can express your feelings to someone else who has taken the time to listen and respond is extremely comforting and can create a strong bond between you and your child, roommate, significant other, or whoever you are sharing a meal with.
3.Developmentally: Focusing on children, family meals can be a defining factor in their development relating to food. As we have seen in previous blog posts, having a healthy relationship with food is crucial to becoming an intuitive eater who views food as a positive thing and not something that creates anxiety. When children are able to see adults demonstrating healthy eating patterns and conversation around food, they are encouraged to imitate the same behaviors. Of course, starting at a young age can make a huge difference in teaching children to trust their bodies to respond to food in a way that is healthy and nourishes them best.
If you are having trouble finding ways to create space for family meals in your life, start with baby steps. Can’t cook from home? That’s okay! Picking up food from a restaurant and taking it home to eat at the dinner table is one way you can cut back on preparation time while still being able to have quality time together as a family. This not only helps support restaurants during the pandemic, but also helps you eat mindfully instead of sitting in front of the TV and grazing after a long day. This may be one habit you want to keep from having extra time at home due to the pandemic. Start where you can and be aware of areas that you can improve upon for the benefit of you and your whole family!