Between work, school, and dance practice – it’s all too easy to skip family meals and grab a bite while on the road. But as it turns out, there are real benefits in gathering around a table and eating together.
When the whole family comes together for a meal, your kids reap the most rewards. Here are six that ways eating together make your kids healthier…
#1 – Your kids become adventurous eaters
Okay, so family meals may not instantly transform your picky eater – but eating together will reinforce that green foods are good. And that variety is yummy.
Children can be notorious for not liking vegetables or new foods. When eating with parents, your child watches you eat a wide range of food with gusto. And this sort of exposure is good.
Research has found that repeated exposure to a food is more likely to win your kid over than bargaining with fun stickers. What’s more, when parents lead with gentle encouragement (rather than a reward) for 14 days, children are more likely to accept a vegetable they previously rejected.
Leading can be a simple as taking a bite then saying, “Yummmm. Do you want to try this delicious bell pepper?”
#2 – Digestion improves
When you sit down and eat your meals together on a regular basis, you send a signal to your gut to relax. A relaxed gut is one that can devote plenty of energy to breaking down food. This is true for you and your kid.
Grabbing a bite to eat while on the go can subtly turn up the dial on stress and slow digestion – even of healthy foods! Whereas taking time to eat together can naturally improve digestion…without the use of supplements.
#3 – Your kids learn to trust their body
Young people are inconsistent eaters. One week they are a bottomless pit and the next they barely pick at their food. This is for good reason. Growth, the day’s activities, or even mood can influence appetite.
When kids are able to choose how much food they want – with supervision – they learn how hungry they feel
Show your child that if they take a smaller helping, they can always get more later on. And set limits. In our house, everyone needs to have a small amount of every dish whether they like it or not. And there is only the food we are all having – no deciding to get a snack out of the cupboard.
#4 – Your kids eat better food
Even if you sometimes sit down as a family over takeout, at a fast food restaurant, or with a prepackaged meal – chances are good your kid will still have good nutrition.
Why? Eating together often is linked to better diet quality.
While we all need the occasional shortcut, sitting down to a home-cooked meal of real food guarantees better food quality. I know – cooking day in and day out can get to be a slog. But that’s what meal planning is for. It curtails the stress of wondering what to cook or how to adhere to a special diet.
#5 – Their emotions and mindset get a boost
The emotional and psychological benefits of eating together are HUGE – shall we dive in? Less substance abuse in teenagers. Less disordered eating. Better grades in school. Less stress. Less depression.
Eating together is a time to connect and check in with other family members.
My advice? Turn off the TV. Put phones on silent. While you’re eating, focus on being together as a family and connecting with one another. Having a sense of connectedness is emotionally calming and centering for children of all ages.
#6 – Their risk of obesity goes down
Eating together as a family can reduce your kid’s risk of gaining excess weight.
While this may not be true for all families – due to the availability of fresh foods or how often you eat out – the link between a healthy weight and family meals is there. And it’s worth exploring.