Families are faced with overloaded schedules and increased demands that leave many stretched thin on a daily basis. Let’s guide you back to the dinner table tonight, and simply celebrate being together.
Parents are well-intentioned when it comes to enabling our children to flourish and grow into capable, competent human beings. We invest in our children and families, with the hopes that the fruit of our labor will produce thriving individuals in every aspect of life.
However, our best efforts and intentions are challenged and thwarted by today’s fast-paced society and a culture submerged in a frenzied state of being. It is not uncommon that today’s families are dual income households in order to meet the rising costs of living. In face of mounting bills, work, school, overlapping schedules, technology competing for our attention, and the utter chaos that comes with the day to day, it is easy to see why something as simple as a family meal gets pushed aside, even with the best intentions.
But why does it matter?
In a generation where the tradition of family meals seems to have been lost, it is perhaps even more important to reinforce the concept of intentionally coming together over a shared mealtime experience. Few things can bring people together in the manner that food can – though it is not as much as the food itself as it is the enriching experience of sharing fellowship, intentional communication, and connecting to loved ones over a meal.
In a time where problematic health issues are escalating, and obesity and eating disorders are occurring more frequently in our children, there is no better time than to realize the potential advantages of consistent family meals in our homes. Research has demonstrated the undeniable benefits of family meals for children, including:
- Improved nutritional intake and physical development
- Improved communication skills
- Decreased risk of problematic physical and mental health ailments, including eating disorders, substance abuse, violence, and behavioral issues.
- Promotes the development of healthier relationships within the family unit
- Improved academic performance
- Improved social development
Considering the haphazard routines that have become all too commonplace in families today, prioritizing family meals can be effective in changing the status quo – for ourselves and our loved ones.
So what are some of the ways that we can effectively implement family meals?
Even the best intentions without a plan of action are less likely to come to fruition, so it’s important to take proactive steps and make family meals a regular practice in your own home, even when juggling conflicting schedules and multiple tasks. When it feels impossible to keep up with life’s hurried pace, consider these ideas to help make family meals consistently doable:
Take realistic steps forward.
The idea is to start at a place that is realistic for your family. If your family is not currently having any family meals together, make it a goal to start having one meal together each week and slowly increase. Build goals for your family based on what you might be currently doing. Establishing a realistic goal can help your family be successful in improving the mealtime experience.
Schedule a time.
Just like you would schedule a doctor’s appointment or meeting, family mealtimes should also be scheduled. Taking family members’ schedules into consideration, plan out mealtimes consistently and regularly. These can be breakfasts, dinners, etc. – any meal time that is designated for the family to come together.
Plan meals ahead of time.
Once you have set times scheduled for family meals, plan out what you will be eating during this time. This helps take the guesswork out of “What’s for Dinner?” each night and gives the opportunity to plan and prepare nutritious meals ahead of time.
Consider turning off cell phones, television, and minimizing any other things that could be disruptive during mealtime. Remember – family meals are about connection, fellowship, and communication. Minimizing distractions can help refocus the intent of the meal.
Create a positive mealtime experience.
Use this time as an opportunity to connect with one another. Purposefully create positive conversations, reflect on something you are grateful for, or allow family members to share their favorite part of their day. This can help cultivate meaningful and positive mealtime conversations.
Remember to aim for progress, not perfection – understanding that health and wellness are much more than food itself, but the relationships and moments that contribute to our identity and sense of purpose. Each shared mealtime is an opportunity to celebrate the gift of being a family.
“The subject is actually family — establishing, enjoying, and maintaining ties. The goal is creating and reinforcing a secure place for your loved ones in a society that can seem awfully uninterested in human needs.” – Miriam Weinstein on The Surprising Power of Family Meals
HEADER IMAGE: KONSTANTIN YUGANOV
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.