Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD
As a child family meals were a daily ritual for both breakfast and dinner in my home. My mom prepared these hot meals for our family every day of the week. When I was in high school and she returned to work full-time, I helped her both in the planning and preparation. We sat down once a week to plan the week’s dinner menus, which made it easier for us to prepare after a busy day at school or work.
To highlight the importance of family meals, The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Foundation led the charge to designate September as National Family Meals Month. Family meals may not take several hours to prepare anymore or be something busy families with lots of activities can do every single day but they are important for several reasons.
Savor the benefits
Sitting down and sharing a meal lets families relax and catch up after a hectic day as well as help children learn conversation skills and good table manners. According to FMI, regular family meals are linked to higher grades, better self-esteem and positive behaviors like sharing, fairness and respect. In addition, research has documented that kids who share family meals at least three times a week have healthier eating habits and are less likely to be overweight.
Involve them all
Getting the entire family involved is a great way to make sure meals represent everyone’s favorites and food preferences. When they help plan, shop for and prepare meals, children learn how a variety of foods can create nutritious, balanced meals. Using the USDA MyPlate as a guide, each family member can plan dinner for one day of the week. Parents can teach kids how to balance food choices with a meal that pairs grilled meat with fried potatoes, a steamed green veggie and whole grain roll. Likewise, enjoying fruit for dessert after most dinners allows the family to splurge a couple of nights a week on a piece of cake or an ice cream float.
Making balanced food and beverage choices starts with parents teaching their kids at home, including around the family dinner table, and a much better strategy than trying to regulate or tax people into better eating habits. There are many choices in life. Choosing to make family meals a part of the daily routine will reap benefits for parents and kids now and for years to come.
Neva Cochran is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, Texas. A veteran media spokesperson and popular speaker she was also a 20-year freelancer for Woman’s World Weekly magazine. She is a past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and a past chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation. Neva is also an advisory partner to the Food and Beverage Industry. Follow her on Twitter at @NevaRDLD