Making a meal of your family’s relationships
In the past week, how many times have you sat down together as a family and enjoyed a meal together? If you had to think about it, chances are it was far less than the recommended four times for optimal family functioning long term.
Long commutes, numerous after school activities coupled with relentless traffic tends to mean that family meals, during the week at least, are a thing of the past, with dinner often consumed at three or four different time intervals throughout the evening, with a range of different menu choices for the average busy, overcommitted family.
Imagine though, if you could improve your family’s health simply by making the commitment to enjoy regular family meal times? A number of studies have now shown that regular family meals appear to be linked to a number of positive health outcomes for both children and teens, including weight control, better psychosocial functioning and improved interpersonal relationships.
It is thought that the opportunity for families to communicate openly, parental modelling of ideal food behaviours, and the fact that food quality tends to be better at family meals are all factors that link family meal times to better health long term.
Despite the rapid rise in television shows that promote cooking at home and involving children in the kitchen, few would argue that a home-cooked meal from scratch is becoming less and less common as we grab other quick and easy options that can ensure dinner is on the table in minutes rather than hours.
Family meal times potentially influence family health via several platforms both in the short and long term. It is thought that the simple act of a family conversing and interacting provides much emotional support for children to help build resilience and their ability to deal with the demands and pressures that arise as part of day-to-day life.
From a nutritional perspective family meal times are an opportunity for young children to role model good eating behaviours from adults, to learn the appropriate manners, eating speed and have it reiterated that dinner does not always translate to 2 minute noodles or chicken nuggets with a few token vegetables. An opportunity for much needed time together to communicate, share, laugh and listen.
For many busy parents the thought of cooking up a family meal at the end of a long working day is overwhelming. It is also a fairly significant investment in your family’s future for research has shown that children who grow up in a family that enjoys a meal together at least four times each week do better at school, are less likely to have drug and alcohol problems and function better psychosocially.
So this week, instead of grabbing a takeaway menu and settling down in the front of the TV for the evening why not start a weekly ritual of a family meal? Aim for it to be the same meal each week, say Friday night dinner or Sunday lunch and involve the kids in selecting the menu. Set the table, give each family member an opportunity to talk about the week they are getting ready for and give each family member designated jobs.
Sitting down to enjoy a meal together is one of life’s most simple pleasures and one that families have been missing out on for too long, particularly working parents who find themselves not home until after 8pm every night. Even if you only manage a sit down meal once each week, make the commitment because the benefits spread far wider than just good nutrition.
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