There’s something special about families coming together and sharing a meal. Young children enjoy being able to eat with their parents and while it may not feel like your teen is enjoying themselves, being able to rely on regular time with a parent or adult contributes to them feeling loved, safe and secure.
And not only is it an opportunity to strengthen the family unit, the benefits of eating together extend to helping kids perform better in school and can prevent children developing unhealthy eating habits later in life.
Listening to adults at the dinner table exposes children to new words, helping to improve vocabulary and communicate in a more efficient and mature manner. There is research to say that kids learn more words through family dinner conversations than through having a story read to them.
It is important to keep mealtime conversations positive though, and encouraging children to talk about their day is one way to open an honest passage of communication. Furthermore, discussing current affairs is a great way to engage older children, and providing a safe place to express their ideas can contribute to improved confidence and participation in the classroom.
And by scheduling in time as a family, it also means that you are more likely to learn about deadlines for homework, upcoming tests, excursions, and better understand how your children are doing in school, as well as understanding opportunities for you to be more involved.
Setting healthy habits
You are an important role model for good table manners, trying new foods, and enjoying mealtimes. Children often mimic our behavior so leading by example will help set healthy habits for your children.
Firstly, sharing a meal together provides the perfect opportunity to talk about what you’re eating, where it comes from, and why a balanced diet is so important to our health – both physically and mentally. Did you know that six per cent of Australian children think fruit and vegetables come from the fridge?!
As parents, we know we should be providing them with a well-balanced, healthy meal in the right proportions. And while this can’t and won’t always be the case, according to The Telethon Kids Institute, kids that eat more meals with their families tend to eat more a wider variety of different foods, from all the main food groups. This includes fruits, vegetables, vitamins and the essential nutrients that promote growth.
As such, I do encourage offering new foods part of your regular mealtime routine as we know children often need to see, smell, and touch a food several times before trying it. Where possible, offer these new foods with familiar foods, and include foods your child has refused in the past.
In addition, encouraging children to participate in all steps of a family dinner teaches them how to plan meals, prepare food – and importantly, how to clean up! By doing this, it improves the likelihood of them making better food choices when they are eating away from home and later in life.
Children and others that are new to the kitchen can help in the following ways: take foods out of the fridge or cupboard, tear up lettuce for a salad, sprinkle cheese on a pizza, help wash fruit and vegetables, layer fixings in a sandwich, or dry the dishes. Every little bit counts.
Finding the time
I know from experience that it can be difficult to find the time to sit down as a family; between after school activities, work and social commitments, it feels impossible. If this is the case for you, start by scheduling in one meal a week – breakfast, lunch or dinner – and then increase as you are able. Without a doubt, you will begin noticing the benefits in no time.
If you’re really struggling, you can take the hassle and time out of having to decide what to cook and going to the supermarket by trying a meal-kit delivery service like the company I work for – Marley Spoon.
Marley Spoon is all about inspiring people to cook more adventurously. It’s important to us to find time to sit with loved ones and enjoy great food together and a key driver for the creation of Marley Spoon was to create an offering that assisted bringing families and friends together to share a healthy, home cooked meal.
Overall, positive family mealtimes help maintain relationships, improve the sense of belonging, and teach kids good habits for life. Younger children genuinely enjoy eating with their families and while teens may not show it, being able to rely on regular time with a parent or adult contributes to them feeling loved, safe and secure. And it doesn’t have to be a five course feast! Make it simple, and enjoy the process.
So, gather the family and get feasting – it’s time to bring family mealtime back to Australia.
Tantalize your taste buds! Try our simple and delicious Italian Chicken and Tomato Linguine with Fresh Basil
Do you eat together as a family? Tell us in the comments below.