A sit-down family meal teaches healthy eating.
When was the last time your family sat down together to eat a meal?
Given the fast pace of life, it can be very challenging to find time for family meals. In fact, almost 33 per cent of families rarely eat meals together. This is unfortunate when you realize the missed opportunities that come with families enjoying a healthy, home-cooked meal together – free of television, cellphones, video games and other electronic distractions.
Family meals allow you to connect with each other and catch up on the day’s events. It’s a rare chance to give your kids your undivided attention. With regular family meals, they’ll develop a sense of structure and belonging.
Sitting down together for meals also allows parents and caregivers to be good role models for healthy eating. This helps your kids learn to eat and enjoy nutritious foods that, over time, will improve their well-being and help them make healthier choices.
How can you create this mealtime magic for your family? Here are the ingredients for success:
Make time for family meals. Aim for at least three family meals per week. If you can’t get everyone together for dinner, plan a family meal at breakfast or lunch. Keep the focus of meals on each other by making the dinner table a ‘technology-free zone.’
Plan ahead. Decide what meals you will have on certain nights, and buy the ingredients you will need to make them. If you need inspiration in your meal planning, ask your family for ideas. You can even get family members involved in making supper or setting the table. Ideally, meal preparation should be quick and simple. It may be wise to prepare food for two meals rather than one so that on busy days, you can simply reheat the leftovers.
Be creative. Use Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide) to choose a variety of nutritious items from the four food groups. Serving meals that everyone enjoys is a safe option, but do not be afraid to introduce your children to new foods as well. If you think your child won’t like a new food, serve it with a side dish that you know will be eaten.
Lead by example. Eat the same healthy foods you are asking your children to eat, and practise the mealtime manners you want them to master.
Deal with picky eaters in a positive way. Threatening or bribing a child to eat will just lead to tension and conflict at the dinner table. A relaxed, loving environment for meals will produce better results, according to Ellyn Satter (www.ellynsatter.com), a renowned author and expert on child-feeding practices. She advocates the ‘Division of Responsibility’ approach to family meals.
According to Satter, your responsibility as a parent or caregiver is to provide a variety of healthy options at mealtime and be a good role model by enjoying the foods that are prepared. You then leave it up to your child to eat as much (or as little) food as he or she needs to satisfy hunger. Over time, says Satter, children will pick up healthy habits and be more likely to try new foods and make healthy choices on their own initiative.
No one says sitting down together for a family meal is easy; however, it is well worth the effort.