FOOD  | 10.3.16  |  by Julie Rhodins

A recent survey of American grocery shoppers found that only 57 percent of parents eat dinner with their children each night.  It might be easier to eat together when children are younger.  But as children start to be more busy with after-school activities, friends, and homework, it can be harder to keep together.  At SMG we realize that to make time for family meals can be tough, but it’s easier when you keep a few simple things in mind.

 Read on for easy ways to make time for family meals  

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Reasons to Eat Together

When you’re a frazzled parent, trying to orchestrate time schedules and meals at home can often seem like a chore.  But most parents do the right thing when they know why it matters.  And eating together as a family is no exception.

Kids do better in school.  “We already know the many benefits of family meals,” said Sue Borra, RD, executive director of the FMI Foundation.  “Just as notebooks and art supplies prepare our children for school, so does the family meal.  Academic research shows that kids and teens who eat meals with their family four or more times a week earn better test scores and perform better in school.”

Kids are less overweight.  Also, a study published in Pediatrics said that when families eat together, children are less likely to be overweight.

“Among the five studies that looked at family meals and nutrition, the results showed children who shared mealtimes at least three times per week were 24% more likely to eat healthy foods and have healthy eating habits than those who shared family meals less often.” (from the report in WebMD)

Families eat more healthy food.  Research also show that families who eat together tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Family Life Educator Angela Reinhart says —

“Studies show that families that take time to eat together are twice as likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables, and less likely to consume a lot of fried food and soda. These families also eat a diet higher in fiber, calcium, iron, vitamin C, and B vitamins.”

Kids have higher self esteem.  Harvard researchers have found that children think more highly of themselves when the family has regular dinner together.  Of course, this means that parents are looking for ways to keep the conversation positive too.   Here’s some helpful conversation starters from —

  • What’s the funniest thing that happened today?
  • What do you like most about school so far?
  • If you were free to do anything you wanted all day, what would you do?
  • What is your favorite thing to do outside?

How to Find Time to Eat Together

Here’s a list of ideas.  Look them over and try what works for you.  Once you’re dedicated to eating together, it becomes a habit and you all start craving the family time and family conversation.

  • Pick a meal.  Some families’ schedule work better for breakfast, others for dinner.
  • Grocery shop on the weekend.  Valuable time is lost shopping for food when it’s time to eat.  If you plan ahead during the weekend, it will be fast and easy to pull together a family meal during the work week.
  • Bring the meal to the child.  Reinhart says if your child “has sports practice or will be late for dinner, take the meal to the child. Eat picnic style and enjoy family conversation!”
  • Utilize slow-cooker meals.  You can put together the meal in the morning and come home to dinner being ready in a jiffy.  There are many website that offer slow-cooker recipes.
  • Make big meals with side dishes — eat leftovers.  You can cut down on fixing a meal at least once or twice a week when you make enough for leftovers.  Mix and match the leftovers for some dinners.  For example, make a big batch of lasagna which can be eaten for two meals.
  • Make meals that can be thrown together in 15 minutes.  Says the Family Dinner Project “Some meals can be thrown together quickly with help from store-bought ingredients, like pre-cut veggies, or a pre-made pizza dough.”