We get them to practice on time; we make sure their uniforms are clean; we help them with homework; we drive them around as if we are a taxi service. As parents, we make some significant sacrifices to help our kids succeed- so much so that it’s easy to forget their basic needs. Some weeks are filled with so much activity, the most important behavior that can happen in your home went forgotten- family mealtime.
Although it seems impossible at times, time together as a family is important for the well-being of children. While they, especially teenagers, may roll their eyes at you for insisting on eating together, one day this shared experience will be what he or she remembers most. Sitting down as a family is a message to children that they matter and is an opportunity to share stories, memories and experiences from the day. There is nothing more important that.
If that’s not enough, research continues to support family mealtime for other reasons. Numerous studies have found that eating with others, particularly family, is associated with a greater consumption of healthy foods. Increased family meals have also been linked to better grades, better self-esteem and less risky behaviors in kids and teens. Shared family meals that include positive and supportive conversation leave kids and teenagers feeling safe and cared for.
I know what you are thinking; you are never home as a family. Family dynamics and behaviors have evolved from years ago. A traditional dinnertime does not exist for many families, so you have to think differently. Pick a time of day that works for your family, such as 8:00 pm, after practice or when dad gets home from a late day at the office. A meal does not have to be hot. Dad can have dinner while the rest of the family has a mini-meal, snack or cup of tea/water. If 8:00 pm does not work, make breakfast your family mealtime. If breakfast does not work, have a picnic at the ball-field. Do what you need to do to prioritize family mealtime.
If you can’t make a family meal happen daily, do not stress about it. Set aside 15-20 minutes to gather together and talk about the day. The most important thing is that kids perceive family time as important to you. In the meantime, schedule a family date night or pick a day of the week that you can make work. Just be sure that your family meal does not gets moved to the bottom of the priority list. If something comes up during that time, make that, not the family, wait. You might be shocked by how much respect you receive when you say, “I can’t make it; I have a date with my family.”
Remember, family mealtime is what will be remembered years from now. Don’t wait for an available night to be together- make the night available.
In my book, Fueling Young Athletes, I share more about the importance of family mealtime and why it is important to discuss topics outside of sports with young athletes. I also provide solutions for other barriers I have heard for making family mealtime a reality.
If you want to learn more on this important topic, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has loads of information and shares tips on family mealtimes, including why Closeness at Mealtime matters. Also available to help American families achieve the goal of one more meal at home each week, the FMI Foundation has developed a website showing ways that food retailers and brands are working together to make this a movement. This topic is that important.