Communal meals are on the decline: a fact that has serious implications for our mental and physical health and well being.
Sales of dining room tables have dropped, and the average American eats 1 in 5 meals in their car. People in the UK reported eating as many as 60% of their meals in front of the television, and a recent study found that nearly half of American families eat dinner together fewer than three times a week, or not at all.
Every year, October serves as Eat Better, Eat Together month, to promote better eating habits and awareness around the benefits of sharing meals with family and friends.
Eating family dinner together is associated with making healthy choices, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, and less junk food and soda. Children who participate in frequent family meals are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier eating patterns than those who share fewer than three weekly meals together with their families. They also were found to be less likely to engage in eating disordered behavior than those children who did not regularly share meals with their family.
Communal meals aren’t just important for the health of our children. Eating together, instead of while working at our computers or watching TV, benefits adults, as well. The Harvard Health Blog reported that eating in front of the television or while distracted, can lead to the consumption of an additional 10% more calories during the meal, and 25% more calories throughout the day, regardless of where later meals are had. These implies that even one distracted meal per day can have a lasting impact on our waistline.
Eating together promote healthier habits and food choices for the entire family. It also provides much needed community among family and friends, and builds bonds over shared experiences.
Schedule Family Meals
By putting family meals on the calendar, you can be sure you are accommodating the entire family’s busy schedule. Having a calendar can help change behaviors, and planning in advance can help circumvent excuses that prevent large get togethers. It can also illustrate to the entire family that this is an important time, and show your kids how much you care about them.
Choose Themes For Family Meals
Meal themes can take on many forms, and they are a great way to promote fun bonding among family members. Choose another country’s native cuisine, and ask kids to source fun recipes they’d like to try. Or, set a breakfast date for the entire family to prepare the meal together. This isn’t limited to the morning, either! Breakfast for dinner is very popular among children, and could get them looking forward to the meal days in advance!
Ask Your Family What They Want
This isn’t just limited to adolescents. Ask your partner and older children, too. We are more invested in an outcome when we are able to contribute in some way. If you’re the one preparing the meal, it also gives you the chance to hear what it is your family craves, and then put a healthier spin on it.
Get Out of The Dining Room
Pack a picnic, go to a new restaurant, or plan an even larger communal meal at a friend’s house. Bringing two different families together has the potential to re-normalize communal meals, as your family will see this is a habit others participate in as well.
Remember, habits may take a while to form! Even if your family seems resistant at first, keep trying. The benefits of eating together are too worthwhile to ignore!