I wonder how many families manage to eat their meals together these days, it often seems that it’s a lost way of life. But it’s a habit that leads to better nutrition, and lessens the risk of weight gain and substance abuse. Family eating not only strengthens family ties and helps keep you in touch with what’s happening in your children’s lives, it can lead to better physical and mental health for both you and your children.
If you can make mealtimes a pleasant experience, when you all come together as a family, you will all benefit. Turn off the television, the video games and the computer. Encourage your children to join in the conversation at the dinner table – but don’t let them take over! It should be a time when parents and children can all share the happenings of their day, an opportunity for togetherness. It’s a positive experience for your children that leads to happier and well adjusted children. Encourage your children to help prepare meals, set the table and help with dishes.
Taking meals with friends and family also helps your children form positive attitudes about food and eating, and creates happy family memories they will remember all their lives. I well remember mealtimes when I was a child, as part of a large family, when we all sat down together. Children tend to copy their parents’ attitudes to foods. They won’t see healthy eating as important if it isn’t something they see you do. Meals can be simple. You don’t need to have gourmet foods. Simple, tasty, but healthy meals are best for families. Use positive messages when talking to your children about food. Let them know that most foods fit into a healthy diet, but all in moderation. Positive messages help to avoid the stress and guilt that can lead to eating disorders and poorer eating patterns as children get older.
It’s important for children to adopt a healthy lifestyle starting at a young age. Parents play an important role in helping to shape children’s eating habits. Of course you must use common sense; a two year old who doesn’t want to sit still for more than five minutes can’t be expected to sit for half an hour at a dinner table. But by the time they’re five, children should be able to sit at the table and start to learn good table manners. They should then be able to take their place in family mealtimes. It’s a habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Researchers have found that teenage girls who eat five or more family meals per week are less likely to resort to extreme dieting measures like using diet pills or laxatives, binge eating, and vomiting to control their weight. The results suggest that encouraging family eating may be an effective way to combat the growing problem of eating disorders and overweight in teenage girls and children.
Sometimes parent’s working hours make this impractical for every day, but surely it’s worth while making an effort to eat together as often as possible. You will all benefit.