6 Tips to Find Time to Eat Together as a Family from New York City Registered Dietitian

Celebrate Family Meals Month

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We’ve become masters of juggling schedules: work, sports, dance, robotics club. We’re just around the corner from school starting. Soon we’ll be dealing with science projects, reading logs, and the new way to do fifth grade math (nobody really understands it). Family calendars are full now. But somehow, in all of the chaos, many families forget to schedule one of the most important events of the day: meals.

August is Family Meals Month. The benefits of sharing meals in a family go far beyond nutrition. Family dinners are opportunities to talk, share, and listen to one another. Family dinners teach children about how to interact and discuss things that matter. Family dinners are opportunities to connect. This connection has some significant results. According to studies and The Family Dinner Project, sharing meals: improves academic performance, resiliency in children, strengthens self-esteem and, in turn, reduces the chance of alcohol and substance abuse, depression, childhood obesity, as well as teenage pregnancy. 

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It seems like a pretty tall order. The simple act of breaking bread together as a family can have such a profound impact in the lives of our kids. There’s a direct link in the nutritional health of children and adolescents with the number of meals the family eats together, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When families eat together, children develop a healthier relationship with food, are less likely to engage in disordered eating, and are more likely to eat a greater variety of foods.

For something so important, we put so little emphasis on it. How come everything else seems to get in the way of a family meal?

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Here are 6 ways to find time to eat as a family.

  1. Family mealtime isn’t a Hollywood movie scene. As lovely as it would be to take out the crystal and linen tablecloth, most of us have mismatched dishes, chipped cups, and can barely scrape together a matching set of silverware. It’s not about how it looks, it’s about sitting together and sharing a meal, whether that be picnic-style at the park, in the living room, or at the kitchen table.
  2. Unplug. Now is not the time to be checking internet, returning phone calls, or watching the evening news. Unplug and unwind. Talk to each other. (Remember how that happens?) By doing this, you’re showing your children, your spouse, and the other people at the table that they matter. And they do!
  3. Schedule your meal. Just as you schedule a doctor’s appointment, coding club, or an after-school study session, schedule your family meals at least three times/week. No excuses! This should be a priority. 
  4. Redefine family. Whether you are sitting with your nieces, your neighbors, your best friend, your students, mealtime is a time to connect. It’s a time to share a moment and be grateful for each nourishing bite. 
  5. Share! Share the food prep, everything from planning to grocery shopping, preparing the meal to cleaning up. (Especially that last part!). A meal begins long before you sit at the table. Take this time, before sitting at the table, to shift from hyper-active mode to sit, relax, and share mode. 
  6. Be practical. Save time in prep to make quick, inexpensive meals. Buy in-season fruits and vegetables. If you get too many, cut up fruits and put them in quart-size freezer bags for later. (Peach pie in November? Yummy!) Label your freezer and fridge foods with name and date (to take the guesswork out of what’s in the Tupperware).  Make soups and sauces in bigger batches and freeze in family-size meals. There are many ways to save time in the kitchen!

Slow down. Take the time to connect with your family over a good meal. This is a pretty small investment for a phenomenal pay off. 

Bon apetit!