Studies show there is one factor that, above all else, contributes to raising children with healthy eating habits and positive attitudes towards food ―and you are probably already doing it. While limiting junk food, preparing home-made meals, and upping fruits and veggies are all important, the best habit you can have is a simple one: sitting down at the table and eating together as a family.

We are aware that busy work schedules and endless hockey practices do not always allow us the luxury of making mealtime a relaxed, family affair. All too often, meals have to be eaten on-the-go in the car, or warmed-up in front of the television. Families with babies or young children may get in the habit of feeding their children one meal early and feeding themselves once the kids are asleep in an attempt to have a peaceful dining experience. While it is not realistic to always have everyone around the table at the same time, making the effort to have “family meals” as much as possible can have enormous payoffs.

Benefits for kids:
The exact mechanism is not fully understood; however, it is well established that children who eat most meals at the table with family have less health complications and maintain healthier weights later in life. One reason may simply be that home-cooked meals are generally more nutritious and balanced. Family mealtime also provides a great opportunity for kids to learn by example: from table manners and polite conversation, to being open to try new foods. These healthy habits and attitudes will be ones that follow them throughout their lives.

Benefits for parents:
Making time to eat an earlier dinner as a family can have unwitting health benefits for us parents. While it may be tempting to eat once the kids are in bed, it is always better to try to eat a supper at an earlier hour. Preparing one meal for the entire family will not only give your body time to digest, but will save you preparation time!

Benefits for the whole family:
Eating meals as a family is a wonderful opportunity for communication and togetherness. With schedules as busy as they are, having even a short time to sit down and talk as a family is a great way to stay connected.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get started:

  1. Aim for 5 Although any increase is good, aiming for 5 family meals per week seems to hold the maximum benefit. Take time to look at family schedules and book them in!
  2. “No screens” rule Make sure phones and iPads are not taken to the table (parents, this goes for you, too!). Take time to talk and really listen to each other.
  3. Get them involved Whenever possible, have kids pitch in with anything from putting a salad together to setting the table. It will give them a sense of self-worth, and can also give you a break.
  4. Add some variety Challenge your family to try one new dish a week. Take turns choosing a recipe. Rate it together as a family to decide if it’s a keeper.
  5. Make it relaxed Sounds easier said than done, but kids do not respond well to being told to finish their plate. Instead of policing mealtime, sit back and lead by example. Let them see you enjoy your meal… veggies and all!
Although it may seem challenging to coordinate, having family meals together is part of a healthy lifestyle that will greatly benefit you and your children.