McKenzie Rockwood, RD, Citrus Pear

Family life seems to be packed with activities and responsibilities. As parents, our days are overflowing with desires to participate in games and activities, congregate with friends and family, rejuvenate ourselves with physical activity and renovate our entire home! When do we have time to motivate and regulate family mealtime? This too often gets put to the bottom of the list because fast food and convenience foods have provided us with the ease of meals which are prepared quickly and easily accessible. But let’s be real, life happens and we are all guilty of doing this a time or two. What is important is that it doesn’t become a habit, and we are striving to provide healthy dinners eaten as a family.

Why is eating family meals so important? First, sitting down as a family helps parents stay involved in their children’s lives. “One of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens’ lives is by having frequent family dinners,” said Joseph Califano Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). This decreases the chance of underage drinking and drug use, increases self-confidence, decreases depression and increases academic performance.

We also know when families sit down to meals together they are likely to eat more fruits and vegetables, resulting in less chance for obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other chronic diseases.

The other key component of family mealtime is limited distraction from electronic devices (tablets, phones, TV, etc). Family need to be present and provide a comfortable atmosphere, encouraging conversation and healthy eating habits. If parents are controlling and demanding over what children are eating, the children are more likely to experience weight issues or disordered eating patterns and withdraw from the conversation.

With all that being said, how do we achieve family mealtime? It takes some planning but doesn’t have to be elaborate. Here are my tips for success:

  • Plan meals and grocery shop for one to two week periods. Planning ahead prevents the last minute scramble for dinner and helps cut grocery costs.
  • Have a set dinner time each night or have it written on the calendar if it needs to be adjusted for activities. That way your family members will know when they are expected to be home for dinner.
  • Make a double portion of meat to use in a different dish later in the week. For example, if you make a larger roast on Sunday you can use the left over beef for French dip sandwiches on Monday or Tuesday.
  • Not every meal has to be gourmet. Cheese quesadillas served with fruit and carrot sticks is just fine. Strive to provide a meal that is well rounded with protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Crockpots are your friend! Slow cookers are ideal for days on the run. Throw the ingredients in before you leave, cook on low, and it will be ready when you get home. If you are in the market for a new crockpot, choose one with an automatic timer to prevent over-cooking.
  • Prep freezer meals when you have a day off. Freezer meals are handy, stress free, and most of them can be thrown in the crock pot. You will feel like “Mom of the Year” knowing your freezer is stocked with healthy tasty dinners!
  • Last, cut yourself some slack! We all have good intentions and want the best for our families. Some days this might work and some days it won’t. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Set goals to change one thing at a time.

Follow these steps and your family will thank you for regenerating mealtime!