Mealtime is more than the food on the plate, it can be the opportunity to spend time together and can impact your family’s health. By eating three or more meals together in a week there is an increased chance of more balanced meals and higher consumption of fruits and vegetables. For each meal that you consume the goal is at least 3-5 different food groups. This is the first step in balancing your plate for healthy portion sizes and eating a variety of foods that provide different vitamins and minerals that fuel your body with health benefits. Just a few examples include Vitamin C to heal cuts and wounds and can be found in broccoli and tomatoes, Vitamin A in carrots and sweet potatoes for skin and eye health, iron in beans, seafood, meat, and poultry for energy and potassium in dairy for healthy blood pressure.
Family meals not only offer positive health benefits but the opportunity to be a role model. Eating the same foods at the same time encourages family members to try new foods and talk about them. This helps to increase the comfort level and support in trying something they may not be familiar with. Conversations at a meal offer the opportunity to learn more about their day and help to problem solve before situations escalate. Beyond talking about your day and the meal, different conversation starters can be used. Family members can create their own by writing them down and placing them in a jar and pulling one out at each meal. Ideas could include, if you could create a new tradition for our family what would it be or what is the funniest or strangest thing that happened to you today? Maybe your conversation extends about food but more on their favorites and why. Conversation and meals together help create a positive environment that can boost and improve mood.
Busy schedules might make mealtime stressful, but with planning, it can become a positive experience for all. Planning meals ahead of time, taking into consideration your schedule will allow for you to have what you need when you need it and meals to be ready on time. Involving your family members in the cooking can not only lessen the burden but provide an opportunity to teach and learn new skills. Those that are involved in cooking are more likely to try it because they had a hand in making it. Cooking together, no matter your family size allows you to cook as a team. You can cook family favorites and also try new recipes or create your own. Give a theme a try, involve your culture or put on music that relates to the cuisine you are cooking.
Cooking builds on math, science, and reading skills. Letting kids practice measuring, stirring, mixing, and reading the recipe provides independence, the practice of fine motor skills, and creates excitement for learning. When you cook as a family, aim for healthier cooking methods such as steaming, roasting, or sauteing. Steaming is great for veggies, fish, chicken, while roasting is best for meat, veggies, and even fruits. Small pieces of meat, fish, poultry, and veggies can also be sauteed, which limits the fat in cooking which leads to improved heart health.
Don’t forget about your setting your table. Using different placemats, tablecloths and decorations can be used for everyday meals and not just special occasions. As you sit down to enjoy family meals make sure to include table etiquette. From a young age family members can practice table setting, correct posture, learn how to pass food, and of course, keep elbows off the table, let’s leave that for the delicious meals you have created together as a family. Life can be busy, don’t let that stop you from slowing down, cooking together, and making family meals a priority for the ones you love.