The Importance of Family Meals at Home
With the rise in restaurant delivery services such as Grubhub, UberEats, etc., eating outside the home has become faster and easier than ever before. We may be thankful for this technology; however, removing the element of cooking and eating together as a family may be more harmful than we think.
Effect on Substance Use
A study that tracked thousands of American teens and their parents found a strong relationship between children frequently eating dinner with their parents and a decreased risk of smoking, drinking, and other substance use behaviors.
Healthy Eating Patterns
Choosing to eat at home has been proven to incorporate more nutrient-rich foods in meals. When you are cooking you are more likely to add vegetables and fruit into your meal compared to when you eat out and tend to eat fried or high saturated-fat foods.
Effects on Mental Health
Frequent family meals provide for consistency and routine in children’s lives, as well as many other practical benefits. Data from a study conducted in 2004 showed an inverse association between the frequency of family meals and tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use; low-grade point average; depressive symptoms; and suicide involvement.
Home-cooked meals are associated with greater adherence to dietary guidelines. When you eat at a restaurant you are not in control of how much food goes on your plate or what goes on into the meal. Restaurant and fast-food options are associated with more total food consumed, and higher levels of saturated fat, and sodium. Cooking at home also lets your family understand and learn adequate portion sizes.
In 2007, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that an average household spent about $8 per meal outside of the home and only about $4.50 per meal made at home. Not only will home-cooked meals nourish your body, they will also keep your pockets full.
Where to Start
Family meals don’t have to be difficult or require a major lifestyle or schedule change. Start with planning just one or two meals a week. While dinner is most traditional, some families find breakfast easier to manage. Keep in mind that children are more likely to enjoy the meal if they are involved in the planning. Remind kids what components a healthy meal should include and then ask them for suggestions. Engage older teens by allowing them to grocery shop. Younger kids can help set the table or do simple cooking tasks like measuring and stirring.
If the idea of preparing a meal before or after work is too overwhelming, consider an easy weekend lunch or brunch. Lots of recipes also allow you to do most of the preparation beforehand, such as these freezer breakfast sandwiches. You can cut, slice, and mix other recipes a day or two before, so all you’ll need to do is to bake or heat them just before the meal.
To make your family meal more fun, consider asking questions that require more than one-word answers. Examples include:
- What was the most interesting thing you did today?
- What were the best and worst parts of your day?
- What’s something new you learned this week?
- If you could invite a famous person to dinner, who would it be and why?
- Ask other family members to bring questions to the table for the next meal.
If there’s time left after dinner, consider taking a walk, reading a book together, watching a family movie, or even planning your next family meal. You may be surprised to find that your kids have not only enjoyed your time together, but are ready for more.