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The Importance of Family Meals

While we often focus on what our little ones are eating, far less attention is paid to the way they are actually eating. Are you eating as a family or do the kids eat early before the adults? Do the kids eat their meals in front of the television or at the table? Do you grab food on the run or have set meal and snack times? The way both individuals and families eat is important and has significant influence over the way we consume food in the future.

Importance of family meals

Family mealtime is important. Studies have shown regular family meals are linked to a number of positive health outcomes for both children and teens. These include weight control, better psychosocial functioning and improved interpersonal relationships. Eating meals as a family is a time to communicate openly and teach children food behaviours. Not only does family meal time link to good health long-term, but it is also believed that the food quality tends to be better. Despite the rapid rise in television shows that promote cooking at home and involving children in the kitchen, making home cooked meals from scratch is becoming less common. This is due to quick and easy meal options that can ensure dinner is ready for the family in minutes rather than hours. Note: I’ve spoken in the past about making healthy takeaway choices for both yourself and your family. Read about my top healthy takeaway choices here.

Family meals influence health

Family meal times have the ability to influence family health, both in the short- and long-term. Studies have gone on to show that the simple act of a family conversing and interacting provides emotional support for children. In turn, this helps them build their resilience and ability to deal with the demands and pressures that arise as a part of day-to-day life. From a nutritional perspective, family meal time provides a great opportunity for young children to role model good eating behaviours from adults. For instance, appropriate table manners and eating speed. Family meal time is also a time to learn that dinner does not always translate to two-minute noodles or chicken nuggets with a few token vegetables. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for much needed time together, to communicate, share, laugh and listen. Note: I’ve written about quick and simple meals for toddlers in the past — which might help you with dinner time meal inspiration. Read about my top 10 quick and nutritious recipes for toddlers here.

How to make family meals work with small children

What do you do in the situation where you have small children who:

- Need to eat early

- Do not behave well when sitting at the dinner table

When children are under the age of three-years, sitting for a prolonged period of time will be challenging. For this reason, keep your expectations low. Even if they have eaten their main meal earlier, sitting in their high seats and watching what goes on at the dinner table will be an important learning opportunity. You will find they are keen to try what the adults or older children are eating, as they want to be part of the family group. As they get older you will find that they can sit and behave for longer periods of time, like 10 to 15 minutes. For those families who find they are simply too busy to share a meal together during the week, try prioritising at least a couple of family meals at the dinner table. It doesn’t matter if it is a Sunday lunch or Saturday pizza night — eating together is a great way to build positive family rituals, that will also have a powerful health influence over the eating behaviour of the entire family. For more articles of my articles on children and mealtime, see below:

Parent and children: Who is responsible for feeding?

Am I overfeeding my child? Tips on portion control for all ages

Top tips to get children eating their vegetables

How do I know if my child is really hungry?

- Best food time saving tips for busy mums