The heal­ing power of the hum­ble fam­ily meal

Lift Magazine - - Contents - Writ­ten by Vanessa Jenkin Nu­tri­tion­ist

Round­ing up the fam­ily for an evening meal can seem al­most im­pos­si­ble with tech­nol­ogy, school and work get­ting in the way. Throw sin­gle par­ent­hood into the mix and no won­der it’s tempt­ing to at­tend to other daily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties while your chil­dren eat and then sit down once they’re in bed to savour your own meal in peace. But, re­search shows that shar­ing a fam­ily meal is more than just an op­por­tu­nity to eat nu­tri­tious food, it im­proves our re­la­tion­ships too.

So af­ter seapra­tion or the loss of a par­ent, your hum­ble fam­ily meal can ac­tu­ally be come an in­te­gral part of re­defin­ing the bonds of your fam­ily unit. Here’s how:

1. COM­MU­NI­CA­TION

Con­ver­sa­tions over meals pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for par­ents and chil­dren to bond. It’s a chance to share sto­ries and news of the day, as well as give ex­tra at­ten­tion to your chil­dren and teens. Fam­ily meals fos­ter warmth, se­cu­rity and love, as well as feel­ings of be­long­ing. It can be a uni­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for all.

2. MOD­EL­LING

Stud­ies have also shown that chil­dren who have reg­u­lar fam­ily din­ners con­sume more fruits, veg­eta­bles, vi­ta­mins and mi­cronu­tri­ents and fewer fried foods and soft drinks. The fam­ily meal con­tin­ues to be just as im­por­tant as chil­dren ma­ture. Teens who eat reg­u­lar fam­ily meals are less likely to be obese and more likely to per­form bet­ter aca­dem­i­cally so it’s a great habit to set from an early age.

3. MAK­ING THE TIME

Time is cer­tainly one of the big­gest ob­sta­cles to fam­i­lies gath­er­ing for din­ner. One good strat­egy is to cook dou­ble batches of meals on the week­end, and then freeze some to make week­day din­ners eas­ier. Some meals can be thrown to­gether quickly with help from store bought in­gre­di­ents, like pre-cut veg­gies. If you think of fam­ily din­ner as a time to nour­ish your fam­ily, in­crease your chil­dren’s cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, and pro­vide plea­sure and fun that they can build on for the rest of their lives, a nightly meal is a ac­tu­ally a re­ally ef­fi­cient use of time! If evenings aren’t pos­si­ble, why not start with break­fast or lunch on week­ends?

4. GET EV­ERY­ONE IN­VOLVED

Stud­ies have shown that if chil­dren are in­volved in the meal prepa­ra­tion they are much more likely to con­sume it! The trick is fig­ur­ing out which tasks are de­vel­op­men­tally right for your child. Young chil­dren can be asked to sprin­kle a sea­son­ing, stir a stew, or rinse veg­eta­bles. Older kids can set and clear the ta­ble, pour the drinks, be in­volved in some food prepa­ra­tion and even start to be part of the meal plan­ning process for the week.

5. TRY­ING NEW FOODS

En­cour­age your chil­dren to try new foods, with­out forc­ing, co­erc­ing, or brib­ing. Make sure you in­tro­duce a new food along with old fa­vorites. It can take 8-10 ex­po­sures to a new food be­fore it is ac­cepted by a child, so be pa­tient. Try in­clud­ing foods from other cul­tures and coun­tries (you can even do this by hav­ing a ‘meals from around the world’ night once a week!), se­lect­ing a new veg­etable from a lo­cal farmer’s mar­ket or hav­ing your child choos­ing a new recipe from a cook book to en­cour­age them to give it a try.

All of these rea­sons are great in­cen­tives to pri­ori­tise fam­ily meal times but aside from it all one of life’s great­est plea­sures is shar­ing good food with the peo­ple you love. Bon Ap­petit!

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