I grew up in a big Italian family where family meals were a regular occurrence. When it came to starting my own family, I just assumed we'd approach meals with the same mentality. Of course we would all eat together!
That was, until I had a toddler who eats dinner at 5:30 PM. Many times, my husband doesn't even make it home from work by the time our daughter is ready for dinner, making even the idea of family meals impossible right now.
I imagine the older our daughter gets, the easier it will be to sync up our dinner schedules, but in the meantime, we've been practicing a few tips that are helping us to squeeze in a small amount of family meals together per week - even with our "early bird special" little human. Turns out there are many benefits to eating together as a family at least a few times per week, so the sooner we can start, the better!
First, let's look at the benefits of family meals, taken from an article referenced in the USDA National Agricultural Library website (they are impressive!):
"Children from families who eat together on a regular basis are more likely to have family support, positive peer influences, and positive adult role models." (Fulkerson, Neumark-Sztainer & Story, 2006).
"Family meals provide an environment that encourages communication between the child and caregiver. Building strong family relationships and ties among family members allows children to trust and depend on their caregivers for support. Researchers have shown that family connectedness is associated with a lower chance of engaging in high-risk behaviors such as substance use and violence, and fewer psychological problems, including emotional distress in children." (Eisenberg, Olson, Neumark-Sztainer, Story & Bearinger, 2004; Fulkerson et al., 2006
And then there's this:
"Researchers also found that the frequency of family dinner increases characteristics such as having a positive view of one's future, being motivated and engaged in school, being committed to learning, and having positive values and positive identity (Fulkerson et al., 2006)...eating family meals is associated with improvement in the nutritional quality of the diet, as well as improvements in children's overall well-being."
Positivity, by the BOWLFUL. Here are some ways we can help serve it up to our family!
5 Ways We Can Make Family Meals Happen
- Keep it simple. First of all, this isn't a formal event; it's dinner in your home. Let's make it fun! Choose simple, colorful foods, and make sure to include at least one thing you know your baby will love. (Right now we are loving this idea.) Or better yet - plan ahead so you can serve leftovers, and you won't have to prep anything at all before you sit everyone down together.
It doesn't matter how you do it, and every family is different, but hopefully these tips will get you to enjoy at least a few family meals amid the chaos of the work week. Every little bit helps!