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Why Family Meals are Important

The typical American family has a lot going on these days.  Between the likelihood that both parents work full-time, the kids are involved in more than one extracurricular activity, and the accessibility of technology, it would seem that family meals are a pastime only observed on special holidays like Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa.  Family meals have become a pastime because we have forgotten all the benefits they hold for our fast paced culture. 

Family meals are difficult to uphold because they are seen as not being worth the energy and effort it takes to get the whole family together every single day of the week.  In fact, the more there is a range in age of the children; it can be even more difficult to convince the oldest child to be patient with the youngest child.  This reason, among others, makes family meals not so appealing.  After all, who wants to beg the family to do what they don’t want to do.

Family meals are essential to the health of a family like education is essential to finding a good job, the two cannot be separated.  In other words, you cannot have a truly healthy family without having family meals.  If you are considering what family meals have done or CAN do for your family, check out the following things we know to be true about them:

• Family meals support good parenting – Children always do better when there is structure so when meals are planned and around the same time each evening, they usually start expecting them and enjoy being under the guidance of their family.  It makes them feel safe.

• Family meals remind everyone they are part of a loving family – During a family meal, one can make a habit out of asking how the day went for everyone.  This reminds children and adults that they are loved and cared for and how their day went is important to someone.  This is crucial in child development.

• Family meals support healthy eating and proper growth for children – when a family has structured meals for everyone, kids are not allowed to graze on food all day snacking on whatever they please.  Family meals allow them to look forward to spending time with family thus also providing a wonderful excuse for not being in the kitchen all day preparing snacks for them.

• Family meals teach children to like different foods – Often kids will want to snack on the same food again and again.  Family meals can’t be the same food again and again because not everyone will want to eat macaroni and cheese everyday for a week, so this way kids are exposed to a variety of foods and with practice start to eat them all.

• Family meals connect us back to our culture – All of our ancestors organized their entire lives around hunting and gathering, thus whenever meal took place, it was with the whole family.  During meals our ancestors would share stories and information about the dealings of the day.  This is the same for today.  Family meals are a time where members can reconnect about what happened during the day.  Even small children can get involved.

• Family meals teach children manners and conversation skills – Children watch their parents interact during meals positively and so they also want to talk and be listened to.  Also, they will see there parents treat each other with respect and not “play” at the table.  This will teach children to behave and not play at the table.

• Family meals provide children with social support – Children admire their parents and want to spend time with them.  Sometimes in our busy lifestyles, the family meal may be all we truly have to spend with our children.  Structuring this time and being consistent will guarantee we always spend time with our children no matter how busy we become.  The time they share with us reinforces positive social interaction.

• Family meals support good eating habits – Children watch their parents eat healthy foods and enjoy the meal therefore they too will want to mimic this behavior.  Although you may not believe that at first, especially when they are very little and for the teenagers who verbally test their limits, at the end of the day when they go to sleep at night, they have learned something and you should be proud of that.

Family meals have proven all these things to be possible with the consistency, structure, and loving environment they provide.  In addition to these benefits, family meals also have other positive implications including better grades, social skills, prevention of obesity, etc.  So next time you think about avoiding a family meal due to all the energy it will take to plan one, think again.  Think about all these benefits.  Who can say no to them?
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