uw family meals

8 Tips for Eating Together

Posted on by Alysun Deckert. This entry was posted in Eating Well and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

With the burdens of work, commuting, and school activities, it can be difficult to find time to sit down to enjoy a meal as a family.  Yet, there can be very positive outcomes from making the effort to do so.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Families who eat together tend to include a greater variety of foods, emphasize more fruits and vegetables, and consume more nutritious diets overall, which result in lower obesity rates and decreasing risk for long-term chronic diseases.
  • Shared mealtimes facilitate communication between family members. Studies show that meal conversations can be a “more potent vocabulary booster” (1) than reading, and the shared stories can help children become more resilient to life’s challenges.
  • Children do better in school when they have regular mealtimes with their family. In fact, studies have shown that students who come from families that have consistent mealtimes tend to achieve greater academic success, show improvements in test scores, and earn higher grades.
  • Students have fewer behavioral problems when they eat meals with their families. Studies have shown that teens who rarely eat meals with their families are 3-1/2 times more like to abuse prescription and illegal drugs, while girls whose families eat together are 50% less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders.

Here are some tips for squeezing family meals into your schedule.  And remember, family can be defined however you want.  Family may include vistors, co-workers, roommates or anyone else you share a meal with.

  • Try adding one more meal time to what you’re already doing. This could be starting with one meal per week or increasing from 3 to 4 times per week.
  • Remember that dinner isn’t the only meal of the day– breakfast and lunch count too. Consider making Saturday morning breakfast or Sunday lunch one of your priority meals for the week.
  • Include all family members in the planning. Build meals around favorite foods and assign each person the responsibility of preparing or serving one item at each meal.
  • Use the meal preparation as quality family time. Consider making meals ahead of time so they’re ready to go on busy weeknights and include everyone in the process, from food purchasing to preparation to meal set up and clean up.
  • Make a point of turning off electronic devices. No cell phone calls, texting, or TV during mealtimes.
  • Healthy meals do not have to be complicated and time consuming. Leftovers and sandwiches can be healthy too!
  • Set the right mood. Make mealtimes special by using cloth napkins, lighting candles, or serving on special plates.
  • Encourage conversation and be sure to give everyone a chance to talk. Ask each person to discuss his/her day, share the “high” and “low” points of the day, or come up with an icebreaker-type question to get the conversation rolling.

Eating together does not have to be limited to the dining room table.  When you can, take a break with co-workers by heading to the Plaza Café or going outside on nice days for lunch.  You may find that some of the benefits listed above apply to you, even as an adult in the workplace.

References:

  1. The Family Dinner Project:
    http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/resources/faq/
  2. Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference?
    http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/upload/Family-Mealtimes-2.pdf
  3. Do Family dinners help students get into college?
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=1809368&page=1
  4. Family Meals Spells S-U-C-C-E-S-S!
    http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/cff/documents/promoting_meals/spellsuccessfactsheet.pdf
  5. Eat Better, Eat Together Month/
    http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/features-month/october/eat-better-eat-together-month 

 Alysun DeckertAlysun Deckert, MS, RD, CD, MHA has worked as a clinical dietitian a the  University of Washington Medical Center for over 20 years. She is currently transitioning to full-time management but has spent most of her clinical career counselling new organ transplant recipients on the importance of diet and exercise after their surgeries.   She has been a competitive marathon runner and has used her experience to found UWMC Team Transplant, a group of organ recipients, living donors, their friends, family, and caregivers, and UWMC employees who train together for local half marathons as a way to promote the benefits of fitness and organ donation awareness.

This post was originally published in the RD Blog. You can visit the RD Blog and see its archives if you have a UW Medicine ID.