No matter who you consider your family to be, it’s vitally important to everyone’s health and well-being to sit down regularly and eat meals together, according to Miriam Weinstein, author of “The Surprising Power of Family Meals.”
“In our over-scheduled, hyper-individualized culture, there are endless forces pulling families apart,” she says. “One of the reasons that family meals are so important is that there are so few things that families commonly do together.”
Some of the most common excuses for not gathering the family together to sit and eat are after-school or after-work activities, working overtime, long commutes, not enough time and not knowing how to cook.
But, Weinstein told us, people have to think about what’s really important to their family.
“Most of our kids will not grow up to be professional athletes or musicians. But most of them will grow up to live in families,” she says. “It makes sense to develop the habits and skills that will really help us throughout life.”
According to Weinstein, one of the biggest benefits of having family meals is the comforting knowledge that the family will get together on a regular basis for a low-key check-in.
And because it’s so important, people need to have the confidence to say, “This is important to me and my family and this is what I want to do.”
Despite the pressure to participate in many activities and the feeling of being pulled in many directions, having a meal together offers immediate rewards. “Family members feel better about themselves and about the family. All of the long-term benefits are bonuses.”
Some of those long-term benefits include:
*Families tend to eat more fruits and vegetables when they eat together, research shows. And when young children eat dinner frequently with their families, they are less likely to be overweight.
*Eating together as a family helps teenagers get better grades and keeps them away from cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
*Family meals allow space for family members to communicate, connect and relax.
With all the important emphasis placed on family meals, how can you actually make it happen?
Here are a few tips from Weinstein:
Start where you are
If you are currently eating drive-thru meals in the car, begin by bringing the food home and spreading it out on a table. If you never eat together as a family, start with a birthday or other celebration. If you eat together one night a week, aim for two.
Make the meal happen
Things are easier to fit into schedules when we make them habits or rituals. When you are organizing your calendar, put dinner in first. Make a shared meal the rule, not the exception.
Let all family members know that the family meal is important. It will help everyone get to the table and, once there, best take advantage of the time together.
Give them something to do
If you’re dining with kids, make them part of the group by giving them age-appropriate activities (passing out forks, helping clean up) and conversation to help them participate.
Miriam’s book was featured in a presentation hosted by Smuckers, at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest earlier this year. For more information on the importance of family meals and tips for family meal time from Miriam Weinstein, visit PowerOfFamilyMeals.com.