Unsure why you should know how to meal plan for a family? Keep reading.
Life can get chaotic pretty quickly, and finding moments to spend quality time with our loved ones isn’t always easy (or possible!). But, did you know that research shows there are many positive outcomes associated with organizing regular family meals? Even just planning for one meal a week can have a life-changing effect on our children.
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Why are family meals important?
Planning at least three family meals per week, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, is some of the best health advice we can offer our OneShare families. According to an article written by The New York Times, when kids eat with their parents, they are more likely to reduce sugar and sodium, and have:
- More fruits and vegetables and drink less soda,
- Lower rates of obesity as both children and adults, and
- Higher self-esteem and a more positive outlook, just to name a few.
Additionally, a 2012 study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University suggests that the more times a week a teen between the ages of 12 and 17 sat down for a family meal, the more likely he or she reported having high-quality relationships with parents; teens were also less likely to get involved in drug and substance abuse.
Dr. Anne Fishel, co-founder of The Family Dinner Project and a clinical psychologist, Harvard professor, author, and family therapist, proposes that there are 16 opportunities for families to spend some meaningful time eating together throughout the week: 7 breakfasts, 7 dinners, and 2 weekend lunches. In order to capitalize on these opportunities, here are three tips for all you amazing parents out there based on Dr. Fishel’s findings:
Make meals in big batches over the weekend to reduce meal prep time during the week.
Let’s face it: most of us work demanding jobs, and our kids have demanding after-school schedules. So, in order to keep good on your promise to make family meals a more frequent occurrence, plan your meals way in advance. Cook up a couple of casseroles or a large pot of stew (something that reheats nicely) over the weekend, pop those babies in the freezer, and when it’s finally time to eat, all you’ll have to do is reheat the food! Easy-peasy.
Generate lively conversation by thinking of some icebreakers in advance.
Fine” is perhaps the most dreaded response we parents get from our offspring. How was your day? How’d you sleep? Fine. Your mom and I are going on an extended backpacking trip through Europe, and you kids aren’t invited! What do you think about that? Fi—hey!
The point is, asking your kids off-the-cuff questions throughout the meal might result in unexpected answers that will leave you all laughing, questioning, and/or face-palming. “Do you know how your name was chosen? If you could be sitting here with anyone of your idols, who would it be and why? Would you rather sleep on a bed of nails or a bed of snakes?!” And if you have elementary school-aged children, engage with them about an interesting thing they learned or saw while at school.
Honestly, though, some days really are just fine, and if you can’t get your kiddos to open up, take pleasure in the physical togetherness that’s happening instead. Dr. Fishel also recommends parents speak about our own experiences “in a way that is honest and self-disclosing, perhaps revealing something that was embarrassing or challenging,” in order to provoke honesty in our adolescents.
Set some ground rules.
No matter how hard we try, conversations at the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table can often get derailed when two or more of our family members just can’t seem to see eye to eye on a topic. So, set some ground rules that are easy to follow and have real consequences.
For example, designate an object as the “Talking Whosie-Whatsit” (a ladle or pepper shaker, for instance). Then, whenever you feel a heated argument coming on, hand the object to the last person to speak and tell everyone else at the table that only the holder of the Whosie-Whatsit can talk. If somebody speaks out of turn, put them in charge of table cleanup or dish-washing duty—something inconvenient but not totally unfair. This way, you set a precedent for politeness during intimate family gatherings.
As always, please share any basic health tips that you have instilled in your family over the years! We’re all ears!
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“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)