When I was growing up, our family dinner was sacred. It didn’t matter whatever anyone had scheduled with their lives, we always found time to eat as a family.
Now it’s easy to be pulled from the dinner table. Extracurricular activities get in the way. You make plans with friends, and grabbing a cheeseburger on the way sounds a lot more appealing than leftover meatloaf. Hey… I get it. But what hasn’t changed over the years is this: When you eat with family and friends on a regular basis, good eating habits—and bad—rub off.
Healthy Eating Habits Are Contagious
During the past couple of years, I have eliminated processed foods, being more mindful of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), preservatives and other chemical ingredients. My family recently has started to follow suit. My dad won’t have any products with “suspect” ingredients in his cupboards. My brother has taken up juicing regularly and my sister has started eating more vegetables and less processed foods. My changes have had an impact.
Gathering around the dinner table is more important than ever. Here’s why!
1. Healthy Eating Promotes Other Good Habits
From a psychological standpoint, family dinners can help develop a person’s self-esteem and social skills. When families eat together, it’s less likely children will develop an eating disorder, have poor grades, or develop unhealthy habits such as alcohol consumption and marijuana or cigarette smoking, according to 2011 research by University of Minneapolis professors.
2. Social Bonding Time
We’re pulled in all directions with competing priorities! Sometimes the family dinner is the best way to bond with your family. Developing relationships and eating healthy meals are equally important. We eat so often (three to five times a day) that we are bound to share the experience with the people we care about. A restaurant or coffee house can be the venue to catch up with friends or family members. Food is like the common denominator that we all share, and gathering at a table is an effective way to bond and build relationships (which keeps us healthy and happy).
3. Bring Your Healthy Habits to the Party
Is all social eating created equal? If your eating habits potentially reflect your relationships with family members, they can also reflect your friendships as well. When you and your friends are hungry and watching the big game, how many times are a meat-lovers’ pizza, chili-cheese nachos and fried chicken wings on the menu?
There may be plenty of socializing; however, the experience may lack healthy foods. The regular family meal can do better to promote healthy eating habits and table manners, and you can work to bring your healthy behaviors to parties with friends.
4. Make Family Dinners Easy and Nutritious (minus the takeout!)
You could have a family dinner that consists of a large pepperoni pizza or Chinese food takeout, which is not exactly the best picture for a healthy home. An effective way to promote healthy family dinners is to allow the meals to become a collaborative effort in the kitchen. Cook as a family! You may discover new ingredients and alternative cooking oils for your meals such as sesame seed oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil for your salads or other dishes. The possibilities are endless.
When it comes to sharing a meal, for a brief time, the people that matter to you are together. Try to eat as a family three to four times a week, and be open to the positive experiences that arise (and healthy habits that can develop).
Link, J., “Benefits of family dinners go way beyond nutrition,” aboutkidshealth.ca web site, March 30, 2011; http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/EN/NEWS/NEWSANDFEATURES/Pages/Benefits-of-family-dinners-go-way-beyond-nutrition.aspx.
“Regular Family Meals Promote Healthy Eating Habits,” ScienceDaily web site, Nov. 18, 2004; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041116232104.htm.
Hand, B., “The Benefits of Eating Together,” SparkPeople web site; http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=439, last accessed May 20, 2014.