However satisfying the activities, busy schedules wreck havoc on family mealtime. To accommodate hectic lifestyles, the average family spends $2,668 each year on outside dining. Unless you are vigilant, family meals can easily disappear from your routine.
Multiple studies confirm that families who eat together enjoy better physical and mental health. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Steven Covey affirms the importance of eating together. The daily ritual benefits children nutritionally and emotionally. Because kids eat more healthfully, their weight is better managed. (Children typically consume twice as many calories eating a meal out than eating at home and may consume their daily allotment in one meal.) Portions are more likely to be monitored and snacking is minimized. Teens who enjoy family meals are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use marijuana and other drugs. Family meals also enhance academic performance—children who live in families where meals are a nightly tradition earn better grades.
In her book The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes us Smarter, Stronger, Mariam Weinstein asserts that children need family meals as a time-out from their busy lives—a time to build connections and recharge their emotional batteries in a safe setting.
But time to shop, prepare and clean up after meals is a scarce commodity, particularly when school starts. Yet creative planning for nightly suppers can trim your budget and enrich your family life. Here are three tips (FIT) to bring back family meals:
F: Fill your freezer with cooked-ahead meals and fill your cupboard with ready-made sauces or marinades. Double your entrée recipes so you have a freezer full of meals ready to serve with a minimum of effort. Take advantage of prepared, nutritious foods at the supermarket, such as roasted chicken or cooked prawns. Adding a baked potato or brown rice, green beans and a salad completes the meal.
I: Involve everyone in meal preparation. Let children help decide the menu, set the table, prepare the food and clean up. Let small children become tasters. Older kids can follow recipes and become chef for the evening. Invest in a slow cooker and a breadmaker. Slow cooking allows you to use less expensive cuts of meat, and a breadmaker will give your family wholesome bread for pennies. Swap recipes with neighbors and friends.
T: Take time to share the day’s events as you sit around the table. Make eating together each night a treasured family tradition. Turn off the television and connect with each other through a dynamic exchange of ideas and feelings. Take advantage of teachable moments to share your values and insights with your children. Begin each meal with a moment of appreciation—for the food, for family and for the cook’s efforts. Teach manners by saying please and thank you, passing serving bowls and waiting until everyone is seated to begin eating.
The family that eats together stays together. When we share a centuries-old tradition of breaking bread together, we nourish not only our bodies but our minds and spirits as well. Establishing a nightly ritual of sharing stories about the day’s events creates priceless memories and a valuable sense of belonging. Aren’t these benefits worth making time for?