We are surrounded by people every day, yet it can be hard for some of us to really connect with others. We don’t seem to have time, or we might avoid intimacy because we are not sure how others will react to what we have to say, or we are afraid of being judged.
We are also surrounded by gadgets. We eat in front of the TV, at our computer keyboards, and in the car. We also wolf down the food mindlessly, leaving us prone to overeating and emotional eating because we are stressed and bored.
It’s not all that long ago that almost every family sat down together at the kitchen or dining room table every night for dinner. Studies have shown that families who eat together, stay together. Mealtimes are about more than just the food. They are about connecting, caring, sharing.
Research has shown that only around 60% of American families eat together four to five nights per week. If your family is one of the many who don’t, here are a few reasons to reverse that trend.
1. Better Behavior
Research has shown that children who eat dinner with their family each night are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use drugs. Staying connected with teens as they mature into young adults can be tricky, but if they are with you each night at dinner, you don’t have to wonder what they’re getting up to behind your back.
2. Better Nutrition
Studies have shown that children who eat at the table with their families tend to eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables and are a lot less picky. They consume more nutritious foods and have a more positive attitude towards healthy foods.
3. An Easier Introduction to New Foods
Some children can be very fussy, so introducing new foods when they are young in a structured way can take the battle out of mealtimes. Plan to serve each new food every day for about a week. Be sure it is well cooked and in small pieces so no one will have any trouble chewing and swallowing it.
Put the food on their plate on the first night and say they can eat as much of it as they like. Do the same every night for the rest of the week. Studies have shown that this method actually works better than the “reward” method of letting them be excused from the table, or getting dessert, once they’ve finished their spinach.
4. Eating a Rainbow
It’s hard to remember all the ins and outs of nutrition for the kids, but experts suggest that one of the best ways to do this is to “eat a rainbow” – that is, select a range of fruits and vegetables to cover all the colors of the rainbow. Each color shows they have different phytochemicals and therefore different nutrients. Try interesting combinations of fruits and vegetables and present them attractively. Make it a game for the children to eat a rainbow every day.
Red for tomatoes, radishes, strawberries, raspberries, and apples, for example, offers you five different options to combine with other items for dinner, snacks or dessert. Orange for sweet potatoes, carrots, oranges, cantaloupe and so on will make the plates attractive and all your family members less likely to be picky.
5. Portion Control
Portion control is good for a number of reasons. The first is it can help you budget your food better. It can also prevent anyone in the house from overheating. In addition, it educates everyone as to what a portion looks like, so they won’t be tempted to overeat if they go to a restaurant.
If your child is a poor eater, a portion plate can help motivate them to clean their plates.
Cleaning your plate is something we’re taught to do when we’re very young because our parent wants us to eat our veggies and so on, but it can be a bad thing when we go out to eat or start cooking ourselves and ordering takeaway. Studies show that plates are about 20% larger in diameter now than they were 20 years ago, leading to more calories consumed per meal.
Therefore, if anyone in the house is struggling with their weight, consider using smaller plates and not piling the food on them, but keeping all the food on one level.
6. Better Grades
Studies have shown that students who eat with their families regularly each week tend to get much better grades than students who don’t.
7. Stress Relief
It may sound odd to say this given the fact that family meal times can be so busy, but connecting with others can help you relax. Plus, you don’t have to do it all yourself. Encouraging everyone to contribute with the cooking, and with the cleaning up, will usually mean lots of fun and an appreciation of teamwork.
For younger children, you can keep them busy by having them pack up the school lunches or snack bags for the next day while you clean up.
Related: Cooking Up Simple Healthy Meals
8. Good Table Manners
You want your children to be welcome and at ease in any social situation. Good table manners and knowing how to behave at the table will mean they will much better behave at restaurants, family dinners and so on.
Related: 27 Healthy Juice Recipes
9. Less Fear of Foods
See something interesting in the supermarket? Learn more about it, find a recipe, and try it. You’ll be surprised at how delicious those weird-looking hand grenades (fresh artichokes) can be.
10. Calorie Control through Substitutions
You can have your cake and eat it too. One of the most popular trends these days is the “recipe makeover”, in which you try to create low-calorie, healthier versions of your family favorites.
Along these lines are substitutions – using other ingredients that will retain flavor, texture, and moisture, for instance, without packing on the pounds. One common swap is unsweetened apple sauce for oil or butter or olive oil instead of butter. The latter are both high in calories and fat, but olive oil has no cholesterol because it is not derived from an animal.
Now that you’ve discovered the many wonders of cooking at home and eating your meals together as a family, let’s look at the benefits of growing your own food.