Family Meal Time. It’s more important than you think.
I once read an article that stated that kids who ate dinner with their family every night grew up to be more happy, well adjusted, did better in school, were less likely to be overweight and actually got the kids talking more around the table at dinner time. Say what?
You probably already know how important family meal time is. And, in this day and age when there are more dual working parents, after-school activities, late workdays, long commutes, it’s hard. I get it. That was me and my husband four or five years ago. We were struggling to leave the office on time, pick up my daughter from pre-school on time, struggling to get some sort of healthy, hot dinner on the table at a decent hour and then were rushing though the evening routine to get my daughter to bed. And then we had a second kid. All bets were off. We were just trying to survive. I get it.
But, parents, even though it’s hard, we gotta do it. Family dinners are important. I recently took a quick poll on Facebook and was so happy to hear that so many of you are already sitting down to family dinner. Every night. Wow! I love it. If you’re already sitting down to dinner, every night, you rock. For those who are not quite there yet, please keep reading.
“The family dinner hour is an important part of healthy living. When families eat together, they tend to eat more vegetables and fruits — and fewer fried foods, soda, and foods with trans fats. When younger kids frequently eat dinner with their families, they are less likely to be overweight than other children.” And hopefully you will be teaching your children to make smart choices and to eat a balanced diet so this carries over into their teenage years and beyond.
Family Dinner can be a stress reliever
Believe it or not, if you’re a working mom and have a demanding job, finding time to eat with your family may actually leave you feeling less stressed. Take the time to sit at the table with your kids and listen to them talk about their day. It might bring a smile to your face and help put things into perspective. If you’re fortunate enough to have some help, a nanny who can help with preparing the meals, just sit down and try to relax. You can forget about work for an hour and your computer will always be there, waiting for you afterwards. On the flip side, if you’re like most of America, and work and also have to get dinner on the table, plan ahead. Cook over the weekend and freeze. Or start cooking easy/quick meals a few times a week, order pizza or pick up healthy dinners for the family. It’s possible, I promise.
Kids might learn to love their veggies
“A 2000 survey found that the 9- to 14-year-olds who ate dinner with their families more frequently ate more fruits and vegetables and less soda and fried foods. Their diets also had higher amounts of many key nutrients, like calcium, iron, and fiber.” Whether it be raw veggies with ranch dressing, roasting some broccoli or cauliflower or heating up some edamame, I always serve at least one vegetable at dinner time. For younger children, like mine, try making their dinner plates colorful. Kids like eating colors from the rainbow and add some yummy fruit on their plates too.
It’s the perfect setting for new foods
“A family meal is the perfect opportunity for parents to expose children to different foods and expand their tastes.” If your kids are like mine, they hate trying new foods. But they can’t just keep eating the same foods over and over again. So we have a rule in our household when trying new foods: take a few bites and try it and then you can give it to Daddy to eat if you don’t like it. My kids also watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (a PBS Kids show) and there’s a song that they sing now about trying new foods, “you should try new foods ’cause it might taste good”. . something like that. My kids can sing it better.
Family dinners help kids “just say no”
Eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs. “While substance abuse can strike any family, regardless of ethnicity, affluence, age, or gender, the parental engagement fostered at the dinner table can be a simple, effective tool to help prevent [it],” says Elizabeth Planet, one of the report’s researchers, and the center’s vice president and director of special projects. (Source: article from CNN.com)
10 Benefits of Family Dinners*
Here are some benefits of frequent family dinners:
- Everyone eats healthier meals.
- Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese.
- Kids more likely to stay away from cigarettes and drugs.
- School grades will be better.
- You and your kids will talk more.
- You’ll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
- Kids will feel like you’re proud of them.
- There will be less stress and tension at home.
* Now, I am in no way trying to preach here. I will be the first to admit how hard it is for me to get my almost 3 year old to sit still at the table, let alone prepare a hot, healthy meal that everyone will eat. When researching this topic more, I discovered all the benefits of Family Dinners and just wanted to share these with you all. I know – of course– that every family is different and having a family meal together everyday will in no way guarantee all of these things, but I’d like to believe that spending time together with your family around the dinner table every night and talking with each other, has to have a lasting positive effect on the entire family.
10 Tips for Organizing Family Dinners
Don’t let this mission feel daunting! Even the simplest meals — like order-in pizza — qualify as family dinners. The main goal here is to get everyone to the dinner table and to spend quality time together:
- Set a goal. Twice a week, perhaps? Build from there.
- Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, whatever you know your family will eat.
- Be prepared. Shop ahead or over the weekend. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Keep healthy ‘appetizers’ on hand. Stock the kitchen with fresh fruits, nuts, and low-fat cheese — stuff the kids can snack on after school, instead of chips and cookies.
- Get the family involved. Let the older kids help you prepare meals and set the table.
- Use the crock pot. Put everything together before leaving for work in the morning. You’ll come home to the delicious smell of a home cooked meal.
- Pick up take-out, order pizza, or eat out. It still counts as quality time spent together.
- Make it enjoyable. Ask your kids about school and his/her day. Leave the serious discussions for another time. Family meals are for nourishment, comfort, and support.
- Turn off the TV. Put away the iPhone. This is time for listening to each other, sharing the day’s stories, and nurturing the family connection.
When I think about being a mother. . loving my children, nurturing and teaching my children and helping to build the foundation of their eating habits, it can be very overwhelming. My advice? Take one day at a time. And with the dinners, if you don’t really cook very much right now, take baby steps. Start small and take it one day at a time.
Every family is different so do what works for you. But let’s do some more cooking and sitting around the table and a lot less driving through the drive thru and picking up fast food.
American Family Insurance is currently running a “Back to the Family Dinner Table” sweepstakes where they will begin collecting family recipes (and the stories about them) from their Facebook community. Each week, for 6 weeks, there will be a weekly prize, a $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card . . and the GRAND Prize is a $500 Williams-Sonoma gift card!! They will also publish a Back to the Family Dinner Table cookbook later in the year, along with tips for busy families and ideas to make mealtime a priority.
For details, and to enter, click here.
For more information on American Family, you can visit any of the following:
My favorite childhood meal. The meal I could eat everyday and every night for two weeks straight when I was a kid (and I’m not kidding). Mac and cheese.
Now, my parents were small business owners (a Korean grocery store and a few restaurants) and so they worked all the time. We had a nanny who stayed with us and I remember her making Kraft macaroni and cheese for us all the time. Now I am not knocking that neon orange powdery cheese, because, hey, we all ate that stuff growing up, didn’t we? I was a kid. I loved the stuff. But I probably should not have been eating this stuff more than 3 times a week. My parents worked hard 6 days a week and although we did not sit down to a complete family dinner every night, my parents made sure we had a hot, meal for dinner every night and we always ate together as a family on Sunday mornings. Even though I wish we ate together more regularly, this is what was doable for my family growing up.
Today I am bringing you the Hip Foodie Mom version of Mac and Cheese. No neon orange powdery cheese here. Only the good stuff. Fresh ingredients. And with vegetables. And nothing out of a box, except the pasta. This mac and cheese does not disappoint. It’s cheesy and flavorful and packed with veggies so your kids are forced to eat them (the cauliflower is easily disguised) or pick them out (note: this is why I try to dice up the veggies really small). Either way, I hope you and your family enjoy!
Veggie Mac and Cheese
- 1/2 pound dry elbow macaroni pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 cups cauliflower; diced
- 2-3 cups cremini mushrooms; diced
- 2-3 cups kale; diced
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup heavy cream + more if too dry but 1/2 cup should be fine
- 3-4 heaping cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese or blend of cheddar + gruyere
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions but cook 1 minute less than what the package calls for. Drain, rinse and set aside.
- Using the same pot you just cooked your pasta in, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. After a minute, add all of your diced vegetables and cook until softened and fragrant; for about 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the nutmeg in and stir. After a minute or so, add in the pasta, sour cream, heavy cream and cheese. Mix until well combined and heated through; for about 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.
The Sunday Supper Team is sharing their favorite childhood meals and memories this week. Everyone will also be sharing tips to encourage families to rediscover the power of family meals. Come join the fun today at 7pm EST and share your favorite childhood recipes with all of us on Twitter.
- Asian Short Rib Tacos with Pineapple & Crunchy Slaw by Foxes Loves Lemons
- Barbecue Chicken Pizza by In The Kitchen With KP
- Beef & Potato Skillet Supper by Cupcakes & Kale Chips
- Braised Pork Chops and Sauerkraut by kimchi MOM
- Chicken a la King by Juanita’s Cocina
- Chicken and Dumplings by Country Girl In The Village
- Chicken Crescent Squares by Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Family Fave Lasagne by NinjaBaking.com
- Gluten Free Peppered Steak by No One Likes Crumbley Cookies
- Greek Meatballs (Soutzoukakia) by Supper For A Steal
- Green Chile Chicken Tortilla Casserole by girlichef
- Hungarian Goulash by The Foodie Army Wife
- Linguine with fresh Tomatoes and Basil by The Not So Cheesy Kitchen
- Meatloaf by Magnolia Days
- Peixe Asado no Forno | Fish Baked in the Oven by Family Foodie
- Pierogies by Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
- Sour Cream Coffee Cake by The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen
- Straw and Hay Pasta by That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Swiss Steak by Curious Cuisiniere
- Veggie Mac and Cheese by Hip Foodie Mom
Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter each Sunday. We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm EST. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos.
Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here → Sunday Supper Movement.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by American Family Insurance. All opinions are my own.