5 Tips for Enjoying More Family Meals

Making a habit of sitting down together for meals can be a challenge for time-crunched families. Here are five tips to help you start a new family tradition.

My dad, a chef and restaurateur, spent most of his time working at our restaurant and was rarely home to eat dinner with us.

But on his day off every Monday, dad would devote the day to preparing an extraordinary family dinner of Chinese food. He’d spend all morning shopping for the freshest ingredients, and all afternoon cooking up nothing less than an eight-course meal with dishes such as steamed fresh fish, ginger stir-fried lobster and escargots in black bean sauce, all served with celebratory red chopsticks and bowls.

My mom, two brothers and I eagerly anticipated the meal to come, and my father’s parents, sisters and brothers would join us at the weekly feast. I loved seeing my grandparents and telling them all about my school and sports activities for that week.

Talk to any dietitian today, and he or she will praise the benefits of family meals. A study found that adolescents who often dine with their families eat more fruit, veggies, grains and calcium-rich foods, and drink fewer soft drinks, than those who don’t eat with their families. Other studies show adolescents who frequently have dinner with their parents (five or more times a week) are less likely to have substance abuse problems, engage in sexual activity or have difficulties at school. And another study shows eating together regularly reduce childhood obesity.

Given our busy schedules and commute time to work, and kids’ activity-crammed calendars, how can we make time to eat together often? Here are tips I use with my family.

1. Just one parent’s presence is fine.

When it comes to dinner at our house, that’s me. My two kids, ages eight and 10, and I eat dinner at 5 p.m. so they’ll be fueled and ready for their 6 p.m. piano practices or hockey games.

2. It doesn’t have to be dinner.

Breakfast, lunch and even dessert count. My husband is at work while we’re having supper, so we often wait for him to come home and have his dinner, and then we eat dessert together.

3. Get teens cooking.

If they’re home to help cook, they’ll probably stick around to eat with you, too. Plus, it’s wonderful to see their sense of pride when the food is served.

4. Turn off the TV and computer.

They take away from the precious social time and conversation that family meals offer.

5. Make family dinners a special event.

Plan themed nights like Greek Night or Meatless Mondays. Celebrate National Nutrition Month by trying a new recipe each week.

My dad has since sold the restaurant, but at the merry age of 73 he still prepares the Monday night family meal, and his mother and sister still join us, as do my brothers and their families. Yes, Dad still spends all morning shopping and all afternoon cooking a glorious eight-course meal, red chopsticks and all.

This article was originally titled “In Praise of the Family Meal” in the March/April 2011 issue of Best Health. 

Next: A Guide to Healthy Eating for Kids, Straight from a Pro

Originally Published in Best Health Canada