Gathering together around the table as a family at home to enjoy a meal has many benefits. From a nutritional perspective, families who regularly share meals together tend to have healthier eating habits than those who don’t eat together.
Children tend to eat more fruits and vegetables at shared meals plus eat fewer fried foods and drink less soda. They also are less likely to be overweight and are more likely to eat an overall healthier diet when eating regular meals with the family. Choose eating out for a treat instead of a frequent event. That also helps with the family budget.
Eating at home provides an opportunity to teach children about healthful foods and appropriate portion sizes. Let them serve themselves. Teach children to take the amount they think they can eat while assuring them they can get more if still hungry after eating the food on their plate.
Plan simple meals and involve all family members in meal preparation, serving and clean up according to age appropriateness. This can start as young as teaching 2-year-olds how to properly wash their hands before handling food and how to wipe the kitchen table top.
Young children can help set the table and put items in the trash. Older children can help wash fruits and vegetables, add ingredients to recipes, learn kitchen safety and how to follow recipes. Let children select a food item to serve by giving them two choices—would they rather have green beans or carrots? When choosing the food themselves and are involved with preparation they are more likely to want to try it.
Older children can help with meal planning and preparation. Let family members take turns choosing an item to serve at a meal or even plan the entire meal, selecting foods from all food groups. Eating together is a great opportunity to learn about healthy eating, working together, taking turns and many other life lessons.
Enjoying family meals together strengthens relationships. This is a time to turn off the television, computer and mobile devices and focus on each other. Encourage positive conversation.
If it is the morning meal, it is a good opportunity to talk about upcoming events of the day and to pray together for God’s guidance. If it is the evening meal, each family member can share experiences of the day. Encourage all family members to talk and be good listeners. This provides a valuable opportunity for children and parents to connect and improve communication.
I have fond memories of mealtime when I was growing up. One family member would choose a Bible verse from the “Bread of Life” loaf that was always on our kitchen table. That person would read the verse and pray a blessing over the meal. We took turns each day choosing a verse. It was a wonderful way to learn that God is our Provider. It often led to discussions about what the verse meant. This is a way parents can spiritually mentor children that has lifetime blessings.
People are busy today. Making meals a top priority and teaching family members to plan other activities around mealtime is valuable. Start by planning one or two more weekly meals than are currently eaten together at home. Check the calendar and identify times everyone can be home. This is a start and can grow to be more meals together over time.