Family meals are important and can fit into even the busiest of schedules. They offer a host of benefits for children and adults: You create close bonds and lifelong memories around the family table. Eating family meals is associated with improvement in the nutritional quality of the diet, as well as improvements in children’s overall well-being. Children who eat with their families are better nourished and have lower rates of obesity. And when it comes to improving the health of our children, family meals are a great way to instill healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
Gasol Foundation is committed to improving the eating and lifestyle habits of children, adolescents and their families. For this reason, through our projects in the US, Spain and on our social media channels (with the hashtag #HealthyChallenge), we will share healthy living advice for children, adolescents and families to reinforce why family meals matter.
When was the last time you sat down for a meal with your family? Was it last night, last week or last month? Family meals don’t have to be reserved for special occasions, can happen any time of day, any day of the week! Make mealtime a priority and a routine. Mealtime can be any meal throughout the day. Breakfast may be the best option for some families. If the words “I’m too busy” pop into your mind, this Gasol Foundation #HealthyChallenge is just for you!
The benefits of family mealtime
- Relationships: Eating together helps build a close relationship with your children. It gives everyone in the family a chance to learn more about each other. Turn off the TV and do not answer the phone during mealtime. Instead use this time to talk, connect, and make memories together. It is a lesson your children will use for life.
- Better Nutrition: Families who ate one meal together every day consumed an average of 0.8 more servings of fruits and vegetables compared to families who did not eat dinner together . These families also had higher intakes of important nutrients and they were less likely to eat unhealthy fried foods and drink soda (Rockett, 2007).
- Portion Sizes: Children learn about correct portion sizes, food groups, and nutrition when eating with their family. Let the children learn by serving themselves at dinner. Teach them to take small amounts at first. Tell them they can get more if they are still hungry later.
- Cooking Skills: Get everyone involved in meal preparation. Kids love to help prepare food. Letting them help prepare food will help them feel valued and part of the family.
- Social Skills: Eating together as a family gives the children an opportunity to learn and practice their social skills, table manners, and conversation skills.
- New Foods: Offer your children new foods, but do not force them to eat them. Let them choose how much to eat. Kids are more likely to enjoy a food when eating it is their own choice. It also helps them learn to be independent.
Keys to enjoyable family mealtimes
- Make family meals a priority in your household. Being together as a family is more important than making an elaborate meal.
- Start with small steps. Increase the number of family meals by one extra meal a week. Small steps can lead to large rewards.
- Make mealtime timely. Kids need time to sit down and eat their food, but it does not have to take a long time. Sitting for too long can lead to irritability and decrease mealtime enjoyment.
- Set a regular family mealtime. Regular mealtimes give your child a better chance to eat a variety of foods to get the right amount to grow, stay healthy, and keep a healthy weight.
- Plan ahead to save time. For example, cook double the amount of meat you need on Monday night, so that you can use the extra precooked meat for Tuesday’s meal.
- As a family, plan a menu for the week and make a grocery list. Using a weekly grocery list makes planning meals for the week easier and clipping appropriate coupons is a great way to work together to keep costs down.
- Set a good example. Your children are more likely to eat a variety of healthy foods if they see you doing it first. Try to include food from each of the five food groups.
- Let children mix foods together or stir food in a pot with appropriate supervision. If the oven is needed, kids can set the temperature or prepare a salad.
- Ask your child to help set the table.
- Work as a team to clean up after dinner, making it fun!
- Select family-friendly recipes that give everyone an important task to do. This will teach children about the importance of family togetherness and teamwork, which helps the job get done faster.
- Turn off the TV! Find another way to see favorite shows. Let the answering machine take your phone calls, too. Have your family make calls before or after the meal hour. Show that same respect for other families when you make phone calls.
- Eat around a table. It’s easier to talk and listen to your family when you face each other. Eating side-by-side at the kitchen counter takes away eye contact.
Make It Healthy, Make It Fun
On top of these tips we have created some visual cards that compile some of the benefits of making family meals a priority. What about printing them and sticking them on the fridge or around the eating area? It will allow the whole family to beat our monthly #HealthyChallenge in an effortless & fun style!