Family meals are worth the trouble. I promise. Here are 6 reasons to make family meals a priority and 8 tips to make them doable.
My daughters are both young women now. And we still cherish family meals. All of us, not just my husband and me. Recently, my younger daughter warmed my heart when she told me that she planned to fly back to her grad school home late in the evening, so she could be with us for one more family dinner!
We started the tradition of family meals, specifically family dinners, as soon as our first daughter was old enough to eat at the table. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always worth it. Sports, jobs, friends, scouts and fatigue frequently got in the way. Even still, my husband and I held steadfast and insisted on family dinners. We often ate early, so my husband could go back to work. Or we ate late, so my girls could play soccer. It was especially hard when both of our girls were in high school. It seemed like I often had a window of 15 minutes to get dinner on the table with one girl just home from a job and another ready to escape home to meet up with friends.
It was hard. It was worth it.
Why Family Meals Matter
- Adolescents who regularly share family meals are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as using drugs.
- Kids and teens who eat meals with their families are less likely to experience eating disorders and show signs of depression. They’re more likely to exhibit better mental health.
- Family meals foster connectedness and healthy relationships.
- Teens who regularly eat with their families have better nutrition and eat more fruits and vegetables. Kids of all ages learn to eat a variety of foods.
- Children and adolescents who regularly share family meals are more likely to be at a healthful weight.
- Regularly eating together is a terrific way to bond, discuss the problems and triumphs of the day, model good eating behaviors and share family values.
I have no details about the benefits for moms and dads, but my own experience suggests that we parents also win. I think family meals helped me feel more connected to my children, and they helped me eat well because I wanted to teach by example.
8 Tips to Make Family Meals Happen
I am no stranger to busy schedules and to kids wanting to do their own thing. It’s planning and commitment that made family dinners a consistent reality. These tips might help you. If you have others, please share them in the comments section below.
- Plan very simple meals for your busiest nights. Soup and sandwiches; eggs, grits and frozen vegetables; tuna salad, whole grain crackers, sliced tomatoes and fruit are three quick options.
- Mix prepared and scratch foods together. My supermarket’s rotisserie chicken saved many a night. Enjoy that with microwaved potatoes and a salad. Or shred it and combine with a jar of salsa, and serve over rice. Tortillas are optional.
- Prepare as much in advance as possible. Spend time on the weekends prepping a couple of meals or parts of a couple of meals. Get salad vegetables ready for later in the week. Cook up a batch of brown rice or wheat berries; hard-boil some eggs; clean the skin from your poultry. This Turkey Taco Soup is quick to make. Plus it reheats beautifully. And this Curried Chicken and Chickpea Stew goes from freezer to the table quickly. Check out Meal Prep Solutions for Busy Weeknights with my colleague Toby Amidor.
- Be prepared to eat once everyone is home. Set the table early in the day or delegate that chore to someone else. Use your slow cooker or reheat foods for dinner. Have an arsenal of quick-to-prepare recipes. Try my take on shakshuka, a delicious egg dish that comes together quickly.
- Involve all eaters to get them on board with family meals. Even little kids can count out the proper number of spoons or carrots. Older kids can help with the cooking. And everyone can help plan the menu.
- Be sure there is something that everyone likes. I do not think it’s a good idea to cater to picky eating, but everyone should have something they enjoy. My standby foods were applesauce, mandarin oranges and green beans. If I wasn’t sure how a meal would go over, I’d serve at least one of those three to be sure everyone had something to eat.
- Don’t box yourself into dinner. That was the meal that worked for my family, but your schedule may fit better with family breakfast or lunch. It doesn’t matter; just try to eat as a family as often as possible.
- Accept that some meals won’t be much fun. Terrible twos, moody teenagers and grumpy parents do happen. Family meals are still worth it.
Cheers to eating with the family!
PS: Want to learn more about family meals? Read a Cornell University report.