Why Your Kids Need Family Meals Together

Family Meals Matter

Want to give your kids a boost in life? Then sit down at the table and eat together as a family more often. At least three family meals together every week provides benefits that will last a lifetime. That’s right – just three. You don’t even need to eat together every single day like my childhood friends did – they grew up on farms and daily family dinners were as much a priority as feeding the cows and pigs. Three ways your kids get a boost:

 

  1. Better Behavior and Development

*Higher grades and better academic performance

*Higher self-esteem and greater resilience

*Greater sense of security and connection within the family

*Have a closer relationship to parents and siblings

*Greater understanding and acknowledgment of boundaries and expectations set by parents

*More likely to follow those boundaries and expectations

*More likely to exhibit positive social behaviors such as respect, sharing and fairness

*Less likely to show symptoms of depression, violence and suicide

*Better able to resist negative peer pressure

*Decrease in high-risk behaviors such as drug use, smoking, sexual activity and delinquent acts

*Lower risk of teen pregnancy

*Less likely to develop disordered eating behaviors

Frequent family meals provides connection and fosters emotional balance with your children and teenagers. Three family meals every week is all it takes – the benefits increase even more with each additional family meal.

 

  1. Healthier Eating Habits

*Healthier eating patterns overall

*Higher consumption of fruits and vegetables

*Higher intake of nutrients needed for proper growth such as protein, calcium and numerous vitamins and minerals.

*More likely to maintain a healthier weight/weight range

*Less likely to have eating disorders and disordered eating

Every meal your family eats together is an opportunity for your kids to learn from YOU – their role model for lifelong food habits – about the importance of regular meals and balanced choices. You can teach them how to have a positive and loving relationship with food, rather than a negative and fear-filled one. You can teach them table manners, too, like napkins on your lap, not chewing with your mouth open and not talking with food in your mouth. You KNOW those will serve them well down the road in social situations.

 

  1. Conversation Skills

*Greater ability to be an active listener and participant in meaningful conversations

*Enhanced language development

*More likely to have expanded vocabulary

*Better able to express their own opinions and have active voice within the family

In spite of all the technology today, your kids still need to learn how to actually carry a conversation. Meaningfully. Longer than just one sentence. Sitting at the dinner table together gives them this opportunity.

Notice I said sitting at the table. Sitting on the couch or floor in the living room every night with the TV blaring – even as a family – is not the type of togetherness that creates positive outcomes with behavior and conversation.  A calm and pleasant environment is best, so smart phones and mobile devices should be off, too.

Sample “conversation starters:”

*What’s the funniest/strangest/best thing that happened to you today?

*What’s your perfect day? What would you do and who would be with you?
*Name two places you’d like to go for family summer/winter vacation and why.

*What famous person(s) do you respect and admire? And why?

*If you were principal of your school, what would you do different?

family meals, three family meals together, eating together

 

How to Get Started Eating More Family Meals

*Decide you value eating meals together.

*Make it a family priority.

*Every Sunday, discuss which three meals that week you’ll all eat together. Yes, we’re all crazy busy with work, school, after-school activities, volunteer and community activities. But if you value this family time, you’ll figure out what days and times work. It can be breakfast, lunch or dinner. My childhood farmer friends also enjoyed big Sunday midday meals with extended family. Friends, too. That’s how I know about their tradition!

*Get input from everyone on what to eat/serve. Always include foods you know your kids like, but also be adventurous with new foods.

*Create fun theme nights, like Italian, Mexican, Asian, pasta, soup + salad, cheesy comfort food night. Maybe even breakfast for dinner night with eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits. Or my favorite – leftovers night. Great way to teach how to enjoy leftovers and cut down on food waste.

*Get everyone involved in shopping, meal prep and clean-up. Even more lifelong skills and lessons plus expanded family time.

*Never lose sight of the fact that family meals are one of the best things you can do to help your kids grow into healthy, happy adults.

Disclosure: As a proud supporter of Indiana Agriculture and Farmers, I’m happy to mention this is a sponsored post for The Glass Barn. All content/opinions created solely by me. The Glass Barn is a physical and online resource providing educational materials on Indiana farming to educators and students; it’s funded by the soybean checkoff. You can visit the Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

 Resources for scientific research and statistics supporting family meals: American College of Pediatricians, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Cornell University Food & Brand Lab, Food Marketing Institute, Bell Institute of Health & Wellness, Numerous University Extension Agencies and the Journal of Pediatric Health)

 

 

P.A.C.K. Smart Back to School Lunches

Lunches that include a variety of foods and beverages help children stay focused, alert and perform their best throughout the school day. Besides providing the nutrients, hydration and energy children need to grow, learn and play, packed lunches can provide fun and variety that inspire kids to eat well and develop lifelong healthy habits. So, how do parents get an A+ for making creative and fun-filled lunches? It’s not as hard as you think.

Kids love variety, so think about not only what your child likes to eat and drink, but about offering different textures, colors and shapes in the same lunch. And get your child involved in the lunch planning and packing; this is one way to ensure that a nutrient-rich lunch will actually get eaten.

Varying the sandwiches, fruit and vegetables each day is also a great way to ensure your child eats nutritious foods. Selecting a variety of beverages also helps.     

Lunch provides children with about a third of the nutrients and calories they need each day, so it’s very important to know what they are eating away from home. By creating fun and enticing lunches, parents can feel confident that their children are eating well. Below are the key elements, easily remembered by the acronym P.A.C.K. that each lunch should include so that kids get the nutrients they need:

P: Protein (for proper growth and to keep children alert) – Make sandwiches with protein fillings like turkey, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, ham, tuna, hummus, beans, peanut butter or cheese slices.

A: All Fruits & Vegetables (for vitamins, minerals and other disease-fighting components) – Include at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables in every lunch. Try pears, honeydew, watermelon, cherries, cups of unsweetened applesauce, sliced kiwi, pineapple chunks or dried fruits, in addition to familiar favorites like apples, oranges and bananas. One–half cup of 100% fruit juice helps toward getting 1 ½ cups of the daily fruit requirement for kids. Good lunch-packing veggies include carrot sticks, bell peppers, snap peas, grape tomatoes and zucchini, yellow squash and cucumber slices. You can also put veggies like lettuce, slices of cucumber, tomato, peppers or onion on sandwiches….and even avocado.

C: Carbohydrates (for fueling the brain and muscles) & Calcium (for healthy bones and teeth) – Use whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Great choices include whole-grain tortillas, pita pockets, rice cakes, bagels, muffins, raisin bread, those new sandwich thins and even 100% whole wheat hoagie rolls and hamburger buns.  For a change from bread, try rice, noodle or pasta-based salads. Milk is a good source of calcium, but you can also include calcium-containing foods like broccoli, spinach, yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified orange juice.

K: Kid-friendly Beverages (for hydration and proper body functions) – One percent or fat-free milk, one percent low fat chocolate milk, fruit juices, lower-calorie juice-based drinks, tomato and vegetable juices, water and low or no-calorie flavored waters are the best choices. Providing two selections, one in a lunch box and one in the book bag, will help ensure your child is staying hydrated throughout the day.