Photo by George Marks/Getty Images
By Parent Coa Toni Schutta
Now? Family meals compete with busy schedules.
Parents who rush home from work only to rush off to sporting events, piano lessons and school activities rarely have time to breathe—let alone prepare a nutritious meal for the family. It’s estimated that only 30 percent of families regularly eat meals together. Yet research finds that the family meal is a relic worth saving. Mealtime conversation, for example, builds a child’s vocabulary and boosts intelligence more than listening to stories or reading aloud*. It’s important, stuff!
Through the family meal, your child learns how to make conversation, use good manners and eat nutritiously. When viewed in this light, the family meal is well worth the effort it takes to orchestrate. Eating five or more meals together per week appears to be the magic number for gaining the most benefits, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
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So, knowing all this, how can you make the family meal a realistic goal, and a pleasant experience? Here are five common dinnertime problems families face (AND solutions from 20 Great Ways to Raise Great Kids):
1. We just DO NOT freakin’ have time to sit down for dinner as a family.
The Solution: Consider cutting back on one (or more!) activities or choose activities that don’t compete with dinnertime. Most importantly, get creative! Try giving the children a hearty snack when they get home and then eat the family meal later in the evening. What about a picnic dinner on the soccer field before or after practice? Or eating take-out in the car together? The keyword here is together.
2. More importantly, I do not have time to make dinner after working 8 stressful hours.
The Solution: Once a week, sit down and plan your week’s menus. Create your grocery list from there so you’ll have all the ingredients you need on hand. Whoever gets home first can start making the meal. Get your children involved in meal preparation by letting them wash the fruits and veggies and set the table.
Need a few time management tips? Try these: Double the recipes so you have leftovers (freeze half of the entrée then reheat later), use that CrockPot to save time, and try to develop a go-to grocery list and go-to recipes so you always have something ready to whip up.
3. My child is SUPER picky and doesn’t want to eat what I make when I do actually prepare dinner.
The Solution: Many experts recommend getting your child involved with meal prep. Don’t know where to start? Try letting your child help you develop the menus with at least one of his/her favorite foods, let him/her find the ingredients at the supermarket and wash the fruits and veggies at home. Just get your child involved in every aspect of cooking dinner! Nutritionists say that it can take 10-12 presentations of a food item before a child will try it and/or like it.
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4. I’m worried my child’s picky eating habits aren’t meeting her nutritional needs.
Solution: Ellyn Satter, a registered dietician featured in 20 Great Ways to Raise Great Kids, will tell you to relax! Your most important job is to provide a variety of healthy foods at each meal. Your child’s job is to decide how much of each food to eat. If your child has the energy to run around and is healthy overall, then let your child follow his/her instincts. Of course, if you’re concerned check with your pediatrician and ask about the use of a multivitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps.
5. My children never clean their plates! What gives?
Solution: Years ago, parents required kids to clean their plates. Today? The child decides when he/she is full—not the parent. When parents force children to eat, they’re telling them to overlook their satiation signals and eat to please mom and dad. These dangerous parenting practices may later result in eating disorders and obesity.
Considering the benefits a family meal brings, it’s well worth the effort to sit down together and enjoy the centuries-old tradition of sharing food around the table. Your child will reap the rewards for years to come (and you’ll all hold the memories close to your hearts).
*Study done by Diane Beals, ED.D, University of Tulsa and Patton Tabors, Ed.D, Harvard.
Toni is an author, national speaker, and licensed psychologist.
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