With the return to school in August comes National Family Meals Month! Who knew this was a thing? But- it makes total sense to me. Did you know that families that dine together have children with lower rates of depression and drug use? Or that family meals foster better eating habits with less risk of obesity? Meal time is about the only time in my day where I have quality time with my girls and husband, so I honestly hate to miss it.
Below are some tips for a healthier family dining experience:
- Look at your weekly calendar and carve out at least 4 out of 7 days you can dine together. More is better, but life gets busy with work, school, sports, etc.
- Involve the whole family in meal prep. This lessens the burden on you and encourages your kids that they can actively participate in meal planning. Dad can grill, kids can wash and/or cut veggies or stir grains on the stove. It also teaches kids cooking skills. Win wiin!
- Try not to have “food fights”. If someone isn’t wild about the dish prepared, politely ask him/her to help themselves to leftovers. For younger children, have a healthy back up if possible. Try to limit use of “kid food” like hot dogs, mac n cheese and chicken nuggets. Kids eat what you feed them. Start healthy first.
- Don’t force feed your kids! Making them “finish their plate” in order to have dessert only encourages overeating. It’s like saying, “if you eat ALL of this, we’ll feed you more”! Small servings of food are fine.
- Include fruit or dessert as part of the meal. Alternate treats and fruit so kids get used to having both as their end of meal treat.
- Keep the chatter positive. Limit talk about politics, family illness and gossip. This is a time to share good news and not bring everyone down.
- Ask each family member about their day- name 3 positive things that happened. It will lift everyone’s spirits.
- Serve water or milk at meals. Soda and juice add more calories and sugar to everyone’s meal, which most kids and adults don’t need these days.
- Keep a variety of frozen veggies on hand and microwave them for simpler meal prep.
- “Reuse” leftovers in other dishes. Add black beans or chicken to salads or pasta dishes. Add leftover salad to sandwiches. Teach your kids that food is a resource and should not be wasted.