Six reasons why family mealtime goes beyond the meal

Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Abbigail Sampson

Busy schedules for kids and parents make family mealtime a challenge. With our hectic modern lifestyles, this can leave little room in our schedules for family meals.

This time together provides important benefits for everyone in the family. Research suggests that children who take part in regular family meals eat healthier foods, have fewer problems with delinquency and experience greater academic achievement. Family meals also support improved psychological well-being and positive family interactions.

Family meals are a wonderful opportunity for parents or caregivers to share stories about their day, memories of their own family traditions and model healthy behaviors. Here are six key reasons why family mealtime should be included in your schedule:

1. Kids eat more healthy foods. Kids who regularly eat family meals with their parents or caregivers consume more fruits and veggies and less soda and fried foods, according to research. This results in higher consumption of key nutrients such as calcium, iron and fiber, which are essential for growth and development.

2. Family mealtime is a perfect setting for introducing new foods. Incorporating new foods into meals not only expands kids’ knowledge, but also their tastes or desire for new foods. Be sure to offer new foods frequently and often.

3. You control the portions. Americans spend a large portion of their food budget on meals outside the home. Although grabbing take-out or dining out can be convenient, it comes with a price; and that price is higher calories in the form of large portion sizes. Average restaurant meals contain 60-percent more calories than a homemade meal. When you prepare meals at home, you not only control the ingredients, you can control the portion sizes.

4. Healthy meals mean healthy kids. Many studies have shown that kids who eat family meals regularly are less likely to suffer from depression, experience eating disorders or become overweight. Kids who eat family meals will more frequently report that their parents are proud of them. This is an opportunity when parents are able to identify feelings of depression or sadness and provide support for their child.

5. Family dinners help kids say “No.” The act of sitting down to a family meal together, multiple times per week, can be a simple yet effective tool to prevent risky behaviors among teens. Family meals help kids feel safe, listened to and closer to their parents, which results in more sharing about what is happening in their lives.

6. Better food means better report cards. Family meals provide opportunities for conversation with adults, which can result in improved vocabulary. Improved vocabulary impacts reading scores, resulting in improved grades in other subjects.

How to encourage family meals at home

Schedule family meals. Set aside time on the calendar for family meals just like you schedule other important activities, appointments and events. Make it non-negotiable. If you must cancel for a very good reason, make sure to reschedule the meal for another time during the same week.

Plan ahead. Use make-ahead recipes that you can freeze or use the slow cooker or pressure cooker with. Combination slow cooker/pressure cookers can help you get a healthy meal on the table in no time.

Keep meals simple. Family meals don’t have to be big grand affairs. Choose a protein, whole grain, vegetable and/or fruit and you will have a balanced healthy meal to serve to your family.

Plan family meals besides dinner. You may still find it a challenge to incorporate family mealtime into your schedule. If this is the case, find 15 to 30 minutes when you and your family can sit together to recap the day. Get the kids involved in the planning, shopping, preparing and clean-up of meals. When kids are involved in the process, they are more likely to consume the foods you offer them.

Eliminate distractions. Turn off all electronic devices, including the television, and focus on each other. This should be a time to relax, share and reconnect.

Visit or contact the local Extension office at 653-8411 for more information regarding this week’s column topic or to RSVP for upcoming events.

Upcoming Events

March 30 – Best Practices for Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant - virtual on Zoom - 12 p.m., pre-register at

April 2 – Extension/county offices closed for Good Friday holiday

April 6 – Best Practices for Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage - virtual on Zoom - 12 p.m., pre-register at

April 10 – Extension Homemaker annual garage sale, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., Putnam County Fairgrounds

April 13 – Best Practices for Beans and Peas - virtual on Zoom - 12 p.m., pre-register at

April 20 – Best Practices for Berries - virtual on Zoom - 12 p.m., pre-register at

April 27 – Best Practices for Herbs - virtual on Zoom - 12 p.m., pre-register at

May 4 – Best Practices for Cucumbers, Squash, Melons - virtual on Zoom - 12 p.m., pre-register at

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