March is National Nutrition Month. Although that is likely low on the list of priorities! However, there are some beautiful opportunities unfolding despite the chaos. Opportunities for simple fun together. The connected, time with our family, time to grow together kind of fun. We’re talking the family dinner!
Oh, does that not immediately bring to mind kumbaya images of lovingly sharing a meal? Yes, there will still be times when a cranky toddler loses their groove at the table or an under slept teenager will be less than chatty. But the fact of the matter is that sharing meals together is incredibly valuable and doing so consistently impacts us on every level.
Benefits of the Family Mealtime
Frequency of family meals is linked to improved cognitive achievement, decreased risk-taking behaviors such as smoking, and reduced risk of obesity. Families who regularly share meals together also have children who eat more fruits and vegetables and have higher reported sense of self-esteem.
Look, we have to eat. We crave quality time together. Why not share these together? That quality time is like food for our soul (while the food on the table feeds our bellies).
You may be saying, “Yeah, right. Who has time for cooking and eating together at home?” Yes, let’s agree to agree that everyone is busy (our favorite four-letter word). No matter how busy we are, it is crucial to spend valuable time together to connect, bond, and experience life together.
Reframe What Mealtime Means
Now, in our busy lives a little reframing can go a long way. Maybe dinner time is not going to happen together most nights of the week. Okay, well maybe that means you all sit down for an evening snack (or cup of tea or a protein bar) instead. Maybe breakfast is a more reasonable time to consistently spend together. Perhaps there is one day a week, like a Sunday evening, the family commits to a meal together. There are a zillion ways to still spend meal time together without necessarily sitting down to an hour-long gourmet dinner seven nights a week.
If dinner time is going to be your focus, remember less is more. Gather a few favorite 20-minute meal recipes or try out a new meal delivery service. We’ve never met a kid who didn’t love smoothies just as much, or even more, than a dinner that took 2 hours and 20 ingredients to prepare. Keep it simple. Another important consideration if dinner time is your focus is to share the responsibility. Get little hands grabbing ingredients from the cupboard. Have teens help chop and sauté. If one parent cooks, the other does the dishes. The time together doesn’t just have to be while physically eating food. Expanding the time to meal prep and clean up means more time together.
Making Dinner Time Fun
Here is where we turn this “task” into some fun! Only one rule: turn the TV off!
- Turn on some music and groove. Kitchen dance party!
- Turn the kitchen into a restaurant. Everyone gets to be a chef or waiter or baker.
- Have a board game or cards ready at the table to play after eating.
- Rotate which family member gets to decide what’s for dinner.
- Take a paper plate and let each person write their favorite thing about the family on it. Pass around during mealtime. Now there’s a keepsake! Then, take turns with who the plate gets to be about. Fill each other’s buckets with kind words.
- When weather permits, take it outside! Go picnic style or eat out on the patio or even on the front step.
- Recount favorite memories: meeting your spouse, birth or milestones of each child, favorite family traditions, and the like.
- Dinner conversation ideas:
- “If you could be one animal, which one would you be and why?”
- “If you were your teacher, what would the rules of your classroom be?”
- “Where would you go on your dream vacation? What about that location is so exciting to you?”
- “If you had to leave earth, which planet would you go to and what would you bring with you?”
- “If each member of our family were a food, which ones would we be?”
- “Tell us about your favorite memory with a friend.”
- “If you could invent one thing, what would it be? What problem would that solve?”
- “If you could help one person, who would you help? How could you help them?”
- “What are you most grateful for today?”
For more conversation ideas, visit the Family Dinner Project.
Nourish, Grow, Nurture
The benefits of family mealtimes are significant to our health, our wellbeing, our connectedness, and our children’s development. One way concepts of nutrition are consistently misconstrued is the tendency to view them in a negative light. Viewed as something we should do but don’t want to. The view that taking good care of ourselves means leaving behind something we desire. But looking at nutrition from the perspective of what it means to nourish can change that viewpoint.
Merriam-Webster has been kind enough to define nourish as “nurture or promote growth of.” Let’s take on this mindset. Taking the opportunity to nurture and grow ourselves and our families through our daily activities and interactions. We have to eat to live. We need connection to live fully. Let’s embrace the time together to nourish from the inside out with every family dinner.
Cole is a wife and mom of three. She has been a Registered Dietitian since 2005. Her journey through self-mastery and anchoring herself in her family has been the most important and on-going practice of her life. Cole loves being active with her family, yoga, cooking, and spending time in nature.