How has family meal time changed for you this year? Has your family had to adapt to new school and work schedules, making it harder to fit in meal time together? Or has your family had more at-home meals than ever? Are you officially tired of cooking, or maybe you or have developed a surprising love for trying new recipes? Has it been awhile since you’ve had the opportunity to eat a restaurant meal? Or maybe you’ve been able to try some new restaurants with carry-out and delivery options this year?
We’ve almost been in a pandemic for a year now, so no doubt your family’s meal patterns have changed from what they were last year at this time. No matter what situation your family finds itself in right now, here at Parent Up we want to encourage you to keep family meals together a high priority. As parents, a lot is thrown at us about what we should or shouldn’t do to help our kids. Some of this advice seems achievable, and some of it can seem overwhelming. The thing with family meals is this: a relatively low time commitment can lead to great long-term benefits for your children and your family.
Research points to family meals as helping to increase children’s academic performance, literacy, and connection to family, while decreasing the risk of depression, substance use, and obesity. Family meals have been researched for many years now and the outcome is clear: Family meals make a positive difference. If you are already having family meals most days, great job! If not, think about how many times your family currently sits down together for a meal per week. How can you slowly improve on this? Make it simple for yourself and give yourself grace as you incorporate more family meals into your routine. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Keep it simple. Things are busy, and some nights following a recipe just isn’t happening. Planning ahead of time helps a lot, but if you haven’t planned ahead and find yourself stressing over a meal, give yourself permission to do something simple. Open a couple cans of soup, make a plate of cheese and crackers and lunchmeat, fix some boxed mac and cheese or a simple sandwich. Having good nutritious meals is great of course, but don’t miss out on the benefits of family meals just because you don’t have the ingredients or motivation to cook a big meal. We’ve all been there! Even a simple meal together can provide the benefits of family connection.
2. It doesn’t have to be “dinner.” If your family’s schedule works out better to have breakfast together some days, or an after-school snack at the table, or even a late night dessert together on a weekend, then make that your priority! Think about what works for your family, set your goals, and take some little steps to make it happen!
3. Work towards limited distractions at mealtimes. Put away the phones in a special bowl or make an “unplugged box” that you keep away from the table and turn off the tv. This allows for each family member to listen to one another and build a conversation without competing with electronics for attention.
4. Encourage kids to participate in meal preparation and conversation. When they participate in making the meal, kids build responsibility and feel more connected. To help kids with conversation, have them come up with questions that they want to ask parents or find some simple table-time questions and ideas to get started.
Make 2021 the year where family meals rise in your priority list. Visit ParentUpKC.com/Meaningful-Meals, where you can find more information on this topic, as well as simple recipes and table talk ideas. Parents, you’ve got this!
By Parent Up KC Staff