How to commit to family meal time

Making a commitment to including family meal time as part of a normal routine can be rewarding in many ways. Katelyn Wolfe, MS, RD, CSP, LDN, a Le Bonheur clinical nutritionist, shares some of the benefits of sitting down to eat as a family.

Communication – Family members have the opportunity to really share what is going on in their lives. You may find that your child is struggling with a friendship, having trouble in math class or is scared about getting made fun of for the braces that she is getting soon. Make sure to cut out all distracting electronics from the meal time – no TV, tablets, smart phones, etc. These only inhibit family time.

Promoting a normal weight – Families that eat a home-prepared meal together are more likely to have a normal weight. Demonstrate healthy eating patterns to your children; they are watching you! As a parent, make sure that you are serving up a healthy meal, which may include a lean protein source, whole grains, one to two servings of vegetables and maybe even fruit as a sweet in place of dessert.

Serving as a “home base” – With crazy school, work and extra activities in the family schedule, family time spent at a meal together can serve as a “home base” for all of the family members to coordinate what is going on and when. This helps parents and kids to stay informed about what activities are going on throughout the week.

Of course, making time for a meal and meal-planning can be a daunting task. Here are some tips for making dinner without the chaos.

  • Plan meals in advance so that grocery items are already available and ready to be prepared.
  • Pick one day – maybe a weekend day -- and prepare several meals at one time then refrigerate. Or, prepare the main entrée or protein for the meal, and rely on simple sides to add to the entrée to form a complete meal. Use ready-made salad mixes, frozen steamed vegetable bags, and instant brown rice, pasta, or couscous as grains for the meal.
  • Make a double or triple recipe of foods that can easily be frozen. For example, pasta and stir-fry dishes are easily frozen if you prepare more than enough for one meal. Then, when time is limited, thaw out the frozen entrée the night before in the refrigerator or the evening of if using the defrost setting on your microwave.

If you can’t commit to dinner at the table because of piano lessons followed by basketball practice, planning ahead and packing a healthy meal or healthy snacks had also have an impact on weight. Instead of relying on the drive through, take some time to make healthy sandwiches, wraps, or pasta or other grain salads, and add sides of fresh fruit, crunchy veggies with a dip or hummus and a serving of dairy. A little planning can help promote more family time and an overall healthier diet.