Who’s coming to dinner: Explore the importance of family meals

Celebrate National Family Day and eat dinner together, building relationships and strengthening family bonds.

One of the most important times a family can be together is mealtime. Mealtimes provide a great opportunity to interact with your kids and make sure that the people you love make time for one another. Mealtimes are a great opportunity not only to eat together, but also to connect, laugh together and even problem solve. Family meals provide opportunities for adults to share appropriate table manners and nutritious food choices.

Eating together as a family can teach good communication skills such as listening patiently and expressing one's opinion in a respectful manner. Family meals can also help create long-lasting family traditions. Mealtime is a perfect time for everyone to share stories about their day.

Family meals are important: (1) they provide children and teens with predictable structure; (2) eating together provides the family a chance to talk with each other, thereby strengthening family communication and bonding; and (3) children who share family meals:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods
  • Have less substance abuse
  • Perform better academically
  • Are healthier
  • Have fewer eating disorders

One of the first things a family can do is determine how many nights they will eat together. To restart the ritual of having family meals in your household, consider the following ideas:

  • Make it a priority to meet together.
    Meet at home, in a restaurant or have a picnic before a ballgame. Keep in mind that you may be too busy to have a family meal each night.
  • Be a role model for healthy eating.
    Set a good example for your children by limiting choices such as soft drinks, fast food, chips and sweets
  • Minimize distractions.
    Eat at a table with the television off. Turn off the phone and the TV.
  • Keep it simple.
    Elaborate meals are not necessary for quality family time. To save time and effort, keep the meals simple and easy to prepare.
  • Don’t force healthy eating.
    The parent’s job is to decide what food is offered, when and where; the child’s job is to choose what and how much to eat. Avoid food fights wherever and whenever possible.
  • Involve the whole family in planning, preparing and serving meals.
    Listen to children’s meal suggestions and try to make eating together fun. Studies show that children who participate in family dinners tend to have healthier diets than those who don’t.

Whatever your schedule, make a commitment to eat together with your family. This single activity has the real possibility to enhance food choices, as well as social skills and strengthen the family health in a variety of ways. Family Day - A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children was launched in 2001 and encourages families to eat dinner together on Family Day, Sept. 24, 2012.

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