‘Tis The Season to be Glorious with Family Meals
Renew the family spirit by savouring meal time.
It is now widely known that family meals are integral to cultivating health. One can see by Canada’s food guide that an important recommendation for a healthy lifestyle is to eat with others. (Have a look here!) The family meal, therefore, has become a key place to stop, slow down, renew and replenish
– yes by eating delicious food that provides key nutrients- but also through social enjoyment, rest and connection. Eating is a social act. It is not merely an act of survival despite the “eat this, don’t eat that” mentality rampant today in our culture. If we want to squeeze more health out of eating, getting out of ourselves, serving others, receiving from others, and sharing with others are key ideas to consider.
What are some well-known benefits of eating with others?
- Improved diet quality, one just eats better!
- Increased exposure to different foods we wouldn’t normally try. When there is more variety on the table, there is also increased variety in the nutrient spectrum.
- Increased sense of connection by sharing in conversation and quality time together and by celebrating life with others (i.e. birthdays, milestones, special events)
- Strengthening our family, cultural and community identity through food culture and traditions across generations.
What are some specific benefits of kids and teens eating with their families?
- Better consumption of fruits and vegetables.
- Increased flexibility of exploring new foods, decreased picky eating behaviours.
- Improved diet variety.
- Better weight management.
- Increased language and social skills
- Decreased behaviour issues
- Better emotional health
- Better academic achievements
- Better self-esteem
- Reduction in risky behaviour in teens, such as early sexual behaviour, alcohol and drug use and suicidal risk 1.
How can we be more successful with family meals?
- If you have kids, reclaim Division of Responsibility (DOR). That is, in a nut-shell, that parents decide what, when and where to eat and kids decide how much of what is offered and if they eat at all. This simple strategy can be key to avoid meal time power struggles.
- Setting up a consistent meal pattern. In order for the whole family to be ready to eat well, there needs to be some order in the eating schedule. All family members need predictability of when the family eats. Children and teens may need help with setting up an appropriate meal and snack schedule so that they come to meals hungry but not HANGRY (that is both hungry and angry! yikes!)
- Make the table a screen-free zone! I once heard of a family who put all their smartphones in a locked box with a timer so that nobody could check phones while enjoying their 30 minute family dinner. We can all benefit from 30 min of not checking phones and perhaps tuning in to our hunger fullness cues.
- Getting the whole family involved in planning meals. Kids and teens have great ideas, and involving them in the process will result in them being more agreeable to eat things they don’t like when they know they will get other meals they really love.
- Involving the whole family in cooking and meal prep or at least in setting up for meals. Kids and teens will be more likely to eat something if they were involved in the process of making it, because it can often take ongoing exposure to foods to make them pleasant and normal.
- Splitting the load of cleaning after meals! This way we can choose to make meals more often, knowing that we don’t always have to do the clean up.
- Create a pleasant ambiance with joyful music (personally I love Vivladi!), or a colorful centerpiece that the kids can help make, use placemats, cloth napkins and coasters to make the family table important.
- Simplify meal prep and look for quick recipes so you can be successful in providing family meals even on days that are more busy or your energy is low. It can even look like toast, eggs, fruits and vegetables if that’s all that is manageable.
- If food prep is impossible, don’t sweat it! Enjoy yummy take-out TOGETHER, sitting around the table, using regular plates and utensils instead of eating off styrofoam (or compost- friendly) containers, turn the screens off and have a wonderful conversation. When possible, order food you are less likely to cook to keep expanding the family’s palate.
- Inviting guests to the family meal. This can be a great opportunity to be fancier with the family meal and really delight in serving others, specially others who may not be so fortunate to have regular family meals, like perhaps the elderly or people who live by themselves.
The Bottom Line
Family meals are sacred. We may be aware of this, but we still struggle to prioritize them for the good of our families and the good of our health. Don’t give in to the struggle, start small and build more and more opportunities to eat together; this is precious time! End-of-year festivities are a great opportunity to reflect on the current pulse of our family meals and draft some small yet consistent resolutions.
Next Steps: The Festive Family Table
If perhaps you have a slower pace this season or the gift of celebrating family meals through Christmas, Hannukah or other traditions, use this opportunity to expand on the goodness of your family table. Here are four ways:
- Try a recipe unique to your family. Perhaps one your grandma would do this time of year. Call family members and connect with them asking for all the tips and suggestions of how to perfect this culinary family heirloom.
- Get your older children to draft the menu for this year’s family event, have a family meeting delegating what each family member will make. In turn, everyone’s gastronomic skills will improve.
- Expand your family’s knowledge on cultural or religious food traditions by embracing a new dish. In Mexico, for instance, we celebrate the coming of the Magi on January 6th with a traditional sweet bread called Rosca the Reyes. The spices, dried fruit, the shape of the bread, and a little baby nested inside the bread all point to the uniqueness of celebrating The Epiphany. My family knows I am a notoriously poor baker so this idea will surely help me grow. Perhaps you want to join me with this recipe.
- If you do not typically celebrate anything during this time, schedule one full day where you cook an elaborate meal together with family and friends. You can set your own theme, use props and costumes to make it fun and celebratory.
- Last, if you are feeling overwhelmed with the current state of your family meal, don’t fret, call upon your dietitians at Health Stand Nutrition to reclaim ease, peace, health and joy.
Interested in improving your health and nutrition? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter!
Sound Bites is a weekly newsletter written by our university-trained Registered Dietitians. Get the latest nutrition tips, healthy recipes, videos, and more!
Join thousands of subscribers, and sign up for the newsletter, today! Receive a FREE copy of our ’52 Snack Attacks’ PDF by subscribing now.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out our other articles on related topics:
Daniela O’Brien is known for her contagious smile, warm approachability and collaborative approach to nutrition counselling for individuals and families. Her non-judgemental, calm demeaner mixed with confidence and clear direction is especially helpful when families are struggling with meal planning challenges, picky eating, health issues and complex eating disorders. Daniela specializes in Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating, Weight Concerns, Pre/Post-natal, Infant/Kids/Family Nutrition and offers services in both English and Spanish.