Parents, Here's Why You SHOULD Eat Dinner As A Family!

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Parents, Here's Why You SHOULD Eat Dinner As A Family!
Are you REALLY too stressed and busy to sit down for a meal together?

The family meal, once a common occurrence in American homes, has been usurped by a parade of extracurriculars and activity. Parents who rush home from work and then rush off to sporting events, piano lessons, and school activities rarely have time to breathe—let alone prepare a scrumptious, nutritious meal. It's estimated that only 30 percent of families eat meals together regularly. Yet, all research points to the fact that the family meal is a relic worth saving:

1. Consider that adolescents who eat five to six meals per week with their families are 7-24 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes or marijuana, drink alcohol, or show signs of depression than are teens who eat with the family less frequently. 

 

2. Mealtime conversation was found to build a child's vocabulary and boost intelligence more than listening to stories or reading aloud. 

3. A University of Michigan study found that eating more meals at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems. Mealtime was far more powerful than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports, and art activities. 

Through the family meal, your child learns how to make conversation, use good manners and how to eat nutritiously. When viewed in this light, the family meal is well worth the effort it takes to orchestrate. Eating five or more meals together per week appears to be the magic number for gaining the most benefits, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

So, knowing all this, how can you make the family meal a realistic goal, and a pleasant experience? Let's look at common problems that families face and offer solutions from 20 Great Ways to Raise Great Kids available free at GetParentingHelpNow.com.

Problem #1: We simply don't have time to eat together regularly.

Solution: Consider cutting back on one or more activities. Or choose activities that do not commonly occur during the dinner hour.
Be creative! You could let kids have a hearty snack when they get home and then eat the family meal at 8PM What about bringing a picnic dinner to soccer and eating right before or after the practice. You could even pick up take-out and eat in the car together! The keyword here is "together".

Problem #2: I don't have time to make dinner after working 40+ hours a week.

Solution: Once a week, sit down and plan what your menus for each night will be. Create your grocery list from there, so you'll have all the ingredients you need on hand. Whoever gets home first can start making the meal. Get kids involved in meal preparation by having them wash fruit and vegetables, and set the table. 

Here are some additional time management tips:

1. Double the recipes so you have leftovers. You can freeze half of the entrée and then grab it from the freezer at a later date.

2. Make crock pot recipes so the main entrée is done by the time you get home.

3. One mom developed a list of 30 of her family's favorite meals. She served each meal once a month and then started again at the top of the rotation. She kept the recipes on hand and developed a standard grocery list each week so she'd have the ingredients on hand.

Problem #3: My child is a picky eater and doesn't want to eat what the rest of us eat.

Solution: Many experts recommend involving your child in various aspects of meal preparation. Have your child help develop the menus, making sure that at each meal, there's at least one food that your child likes. Have the child find the ingredients at the grocery store. Have them help wash the fruit or vegetables and set the table. Let them cook with you. Any of these steps will help your child develop an interest in meals and possibly tempt them to try more than one food. Nutritionists point out that it can take 10-12 presentations of a food item before a child will try it and/or like it.

Also, consider making "flexible" meals.  For instance, if you serve tacos, each person gets to decide what ingredients to put on the taco. If one child doesn't eat meat, then s/he can just put cheese and/or vegetables on the taco.

Problem #4: My child eats like a bird. I'm worried that they're not getting their nutritional needs met.

Solution: Ellyn Satter, a registered dietician featured in 20 Great Ways to Raise Great Kids, will tell you to relax! The most important job you have is to provide a variety of healthy foods at each meal. Your child's job is to decide how much of each food to eat. If your kid has the energy to run around and is healthy, overall, then let your child follow their instinctive needs for food. If you're concerned, of course, check with your pediatrician and ask about the use of a multivitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps.

Problem #5: My kids never clean their plates! It's so wasteful!

Solution: Years ago, many parents required kids to clean their plates. The common wisdom today is that a child must decide when they're full — not the parent. When parents force kids to eat food, they're telling them to overlook their satiation signals, to eat to please the parent, and that parents are in control of their eating ... all dangerous practices that may later result in eating disorders and obesity.

Also, consider serving only small amounts of each food to a child. The plate looks more inviting to the child and you'll feel better if they reach for more rather than throwing food away.

Considering the many benefits a family meal can bring, it's well worth your effort to sit down together and enjoy the centuries-old tradition of sharing food around the table. Your child will reap the rewards for years to come—and you'll all hold the memoires close to your hearts.

1. Study done by Marla Eisenberg, Epidemiologist, University of Minnesota.
2. Study done by Diane Beals, ED.D, University of Tulsa and Patton Tabors, Ed.D, Harvard.
3. University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Center Survey, January, 1999. Reported by Sandra L. Hofferth, "Changes in American Children's Time, 1981-1997."

Article by Toni Schutta, The Parent Coach Who Gets Results. Toni is an author, national speaker, and licensed psychologist.

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