Which of the following statements best describes your family’s nutritional habits?
- We strive to have healthy family meals together.
- We regularly eat together, but it’s rarely healthy.
- With our busy schedules, it’s typically what’s ever quickest and easiest.
- Everyone for themselves.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes August as Kids Eat Right month. It’s a time to highlight the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for kids and families. As a leading employer of registered dietitians, Sodexo is an ardent supporter of nutrition for children.
Healthy meals provide the essential ingredients – including carbs, calcium, fats, and proteins – that help children grow. There’s another important ingredient for healthy meals. And that’s family.
Research shows that children who regularly eat with their families have higher grades, demonstrate better health habits and are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse or truancy.
Family meals also improve family relationships. Over 70 percent of teenagers surveyed said that they consider catching up and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
With this in mind, it’s reassuring that the average American family currently eats dinner together at least five times per week, according to a Gallup study in 2013. However, NIH reports that low-income youth who regularly eat meals with their families dropped from 47 percent to 39 percent between 1999 and 2010. This is likely due to work schedules of parents in low-income families who do not have 9:00 to 5:00 hours or have multiple jobs.
Nevertheless, whether you’re able to eat as a family a few times per week or several times per week, here are three Quality of Lifehacks to maximize family mealtime:
- Set aside a regular time to have a family meal. Families can have very active calendars. Parents can have erratic work schedules. Children can have numerous after-school activities and homework. Proactively identify days and times where everyone can meet for dinner and stick to it!
- Prepare meals together. Teaching children to cook is an important life skill. Cooking also involves practical applications of math (i.e., measuring ingredients), science (i.e., mixing ingredients) and comprehension (i.e., reading and following recipes. It’s also an opportunity to teach children about nutrition. This can include teaching kids about the five food groups and how each group impacts their health. Side note: Students who participated in this year’s Future Chefs competition shared healthy recipes that kids can make on their own.
- Play games at the table. Close to 70 percent of Americans reported watching television during dinner. Yikes! Dinnertime is a great opportunity for families to catch up. It’s also a good chance to play games and have fun. So turn off the television, put away electronics, and focus on fun, conversational games that families can do together. This can include playing trivia games, naming foods or other items that start with a different letter, or sharing fun stories. Make dinnertime a fun time.
Share in the comments section how your family makes the most of their mealtime together.