Erin is a nurse practitioner dual certified in family practice and women’s health and currently sees patients at Minnesota Personalized Medicine. She is also Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Mom Enough®️, an evidence-based parenting blog.
If you can relate, know that you're not alone. Also know that in spite of what might feel like a futile effort, the time spent on meals is well worth it.
Before I dive into the strategies of making family meals happen, I’d like to invite you to join my family for dinner. The five of us sit on little stools, squished around a too-small table in a too-small kitchen not made for “eating in.”
My oldest son stands over his food, adding ketchup. To. Every. Thing. When he eventually sits, he sits at least one foot away from the table, leaving plenty of room for food to fall from his fork to his lap.
My youngest has a habit of stripping down to his skivvies the second he gets home from school. He puts on a fuzzy blanket for mealtime and entertains our table with jokes that are just shy of appropriate.
My middle child provides the commentary on everyone else’s behavior. She’ll exclaim, “Gross! You’re putting ketchup on salmon?” and “That was not an appropriate joke.”
My husband sits quietly, taking it all in.
I breathe deeply between bites and waffle from stifling a laugh at the inappropriate jokes to biting my tongue when the oldest spills again.
This may all sound like a disaster. Can you relate?! Nonetheless, I find family meal time precious. It’s usually entertaining, it’s one of the few times we’re all together, and the wellbeing benefits are absolutely worth the occasional frustrations.
In fact, frequent family meals are particularly good for kids. Research has found that more frequent family meals are associated with the following benefits for kids:
You may want to add to the list that mealtimes are associated with parent frustration. I totally get it. But, don’t give them up! Below you’ll find five tried and true tips to get the benefits, reduce the frustration, and make the most of your family meals.
Planning ahead can help ease stress around mealtimes. Engaging your kids in the process can also take some of the responsibility off your shoulders while simultaneously teaching them useful skills. Here are some tips:
Kids who participate in the cooking process are more likely to eat the meal. Growing food together can make the food even more enticing and helps kids understand how to create healthy, whole-food meals. Don’t worry if you’re garden-less. Try growing windowsill herbs or place a small, potted tomato plant in a sunny place outside. When the food gets to the table, your kids can take pride in knowing they were involved every step of the way.
It can take about 10 attempts to develop a taste for something. Encourage your children to try new things, over, and over again (at least 10 times!).
Family meals are a great time to model healthy eating behavior. Research shows that children who observe parents eating healthy meals are more likely to eat healthfully themselves. So, grab a fork and show them how it’s done.
Several common pitfalls can get in the way of connections at mealtimes. The most common are phones and devices at the table and watching TV while eating. Get the most out of family meal time with these practices:
So, no matter if you’re squeezed around a make-shift table or scrambling to find time to both prepare food and eat it, remember the benefits that come from a meal together. Relish the quirks (ketchup, anyone?) and let family meals be a precious and healthy family activity during your busy week.
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