Besides making memories, bringing everyone to the table for meals can contribute to physical and emotional health.
by SUJA NATARAJAN
Fresh and prepared foods for family meals and snacks are available in Costco warehouses and are available for delivery through Costco Grocery at Costco.com.
Eating together, a simple act of sharing meals with loved ones, has been in practice since time immemorial. However, with long commutes and kids’ activities, family meals can often take a back seat. According to The Family Dinner Project at Massachusetts General Hospital, only 40% of American families have family meals. Does it matter?
Experts say the key is togetherness, not timing. Eating together is much more than feeding hungry stomachs. Here’s why sharing meals as a family is a great idea.
It turns out that sitting down together for a family meal is great for the brain. Research shows that a child has more opportunities to acquire vocabulary and general knowledge when kids and parents sit down for a meal.
“Family meals expose the child to communication among adults and children, which supports vocabulary development, listening comprehension, verbal expression and social communication skills,” says Nicole Beurkens, a Michigan-based licensed psychologist, board-certified nutrition specialist and Costco member.
Children are more likely to make healthful choices when families eat together. Family meals allow children to try different foods, control the portions and expand tastes in a relaxed atmosphere. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in 2020 indicates that family meals improve fruit and vegetable consumption.
“When we expose kids to a variety of foods, it expands their food repertoire, which is key to healthy eating,” says Beurkens.
With family meals, quality over quantity is key, says psychologist Dan Peters.
Be flexible and creative. No time for dinner? What about breakfast, weekend brunch, a bedtime snack or treat?
Engage children in meal prep. Set aside devices. Make spending time around the table fun with conversation boosters, reflecting on your days and celebrating small victories.
Have a picnic at a nearby park or backyard to break the routine, or invite a special guest over.—SN
Parents also tend to eat more healthfully and model good behavior when kids are present at mealtime.
Positive attitude and better relationships
Eating together can be a great stress buster. Whether the food is homemade or store-bought, sharing and communicating are the cornerstones of family meals.
According to a study published in Preventive Medicine in 2018, family meals promote emotional balance, a sense of well-being, positive behaviors and stronger relationships for parents and children. Family meals allow parents to discuss family issues, allocate household chores and positively engage with family members.
Family mealtimes can be a rich learning environment for kids, improving their manners, patience, conversational skills, self-esteem and self-control.
“The idea of family dinner is to interact with your children on every level,” says New York–based therapist, coach, mediator and Costco member Richard Heller. Family meals provide an opportunity for parents to be aware of their children’s behavior, moods and activities.
“Family dinners increase communication and sharing and provide opportunities for support and connection.”
— DAN PETERS Psychologist
Family meals foster a sense of belonging. According to a 2012 CASAColumbia report (a white paper released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University), children who have frequent family meals are likely to do better in school. They have a closer relationship with parents and siblings, resist negative peer pressure, are less likely to try drugs or alcohol and are less likely to develop eating disorders.
Dan Peters, a Northern California–based psychologist and host of parenting podcast Parent Footprint, says, “Regular family dinners increase communication and sharing and provide opportunities for support and connection for both female and male teenagers.”
Making a tradition of family meals is a great way to create lifelong memories of sharing time around the dinner table. Be creative; play games at the table to get things going. Engaging your kids to help prepare a dessert or a special meal can be incredibly gratifying to them, and it’s multiplied when appreciated by family members, says Heller.
Quick and easy dinner hacks
If time is an issue, try these shortcuts to speed things up:
- Frozen veggies, canned beans, premade sauces and frozen precooked grains can cut prep times.
- Doubling a recipe each week and freezing leftovers saves you time and money.
- Rotisserie chicken and eggs are great items to extend family meals for multiple days. Use them for sandwiches, soups, salads, tacos, pie and even pizzas.
- Prep ingredients and use your slow cooker for a flavorful and warm ready-to-eat meal.
- If your budget allows, family meal kit subscription services can feed your family quick, delicious and healthy meals, no matter how hectic your day has been.
- It doesn’t matter what meal it is. Make eating with your family a routine, because experts say togetherness is the key.—SN
Suja Natarajan is a writer based in Virginia.