The healing power of the humble family meal
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:
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.
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!