Family Meals: Why, How, and When

As you may know, I have seven children. Yes, seven. However, in the interest of full disclosure, only six of them live at home. My oldest is engaged and living on her own but we see her a lot, which we love.

Diane Carbonell with Family

I have always been an advocate of family meals. When we had our first child I still had not learned how to cook very well, didn’t like to cook very much, and bought more junk at the grocery store than food for meals. Because of this unfortunate fact, our family meals were often spent at a restaurant. I suppose you could say that at least we ate together, even if it was at a restaurant. Fortunately, that changed over time.

Why Are Family Meals Important?

You may have heard the saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.” I believe that family meals function in much the same way. They can act as a glue that holds families together if the time together is positive. It is a time when you can reconnect with each other, check in on everyone’s day, and create lasting memories. One of my favorite times of the day is those moments after the meal is finished and all of us are sitting around the table telling stories or laughing together.

Family meals are also important from a health and weight standpoint. A research study published in the Journal of Pediatrics analyzed whether there was a link between obesity and family meals. They discovered that eating together just one or two times a week was beneficial and adolescents who ate together with their family at least occasionally were less likely to be obese or overweight. The article describing the study states:

Family meals may be protective against obesity or overweight because coming together for meals may provide opportunities for emotional connections among family members, the food is more likely to be healthful, and adolescents may be exposed to parental modeling of healthful eating behaviors.”

Finally, family meals definitely give you a chance to teach your children about healthy eating without turning it into a big lecture, which no one likes. I often talk about what foods I am preparing while I cook and explain why I am choosing one particular ingredient over another. As my children have gotten older, they often find themselves in the role of “teacher” to friends of theirs who are making unwise food choices.

How Can You Get Everyone Together?

In our busy world, it can be difficult to get everyone together for a family meal. I understand that – but I also understand that just because something is hard doesn’t mean it should be avoided. It is not always easy for us to get together but you will find us sitting down together whenever humanly possible. I juggle dinner time, plan ahead, and let everyone know that family dinner time is  a priority.

Some ideas on getting everyone together follows:

1) Offer an incentive if everyone makes it. This can be a family game, a favorite family meal, or even a healthy dessert. A little bribery never hurts.

2) Make your meal plans part of your family calendar and share it with everyone. The Cozi app is a good one because you can share events and other things with family members. (And no, this isn’t an affiliate link – just an app we like and use.)

3) Be flexible with time and location. I prefer to eat at 6:00 p.m., but that doesn’t always work. Sometimes I need to move dinner up or back depending on what everyone is doing. On nights when the kids have karate class, we eat at 5:30 p.m. and on nights that class runs late, we eat at 6:30. If the littlest children are hungry, I give them a piece of fruit to tide them over.

You may have to be flexible with location too. If we are on the road, I will make and pack a dinner of sandwiches, fruit, cut up vegetables, and anything else that I need. We eat on location when needed. This helps us avoid the temptation to pull through a drive thru or bring home take out food.  Sometimes, we even eat outside just for fun!

Patio Dining

4) Stress Its Importance. If your family doesn’t understand that this is important to you, this is the time to speak up – especially if you have older children. Do not be afraid to lay out the whys and hows of family meals and give everyone a chance to share their thoughts.

How Often Should You Eat Together?

In an ideal world, you should probably sit down with your family every night to eat together. In the real world, you have to make it happen as often as possible. As the research study showed, even one or two nights can make a difference. Plus, dinner is not the only family meal. You may find that on the weekend, you can have lunch together if dinner doesn’t work out.

Final Thoughts

Family meals are not only good for your children – they are good for you as well. Knowing that you need to put a healthy meal on the table for your family can be an incentive to plan a meal that is tasty and good for you. Part of losing and maintaining a healthy weight for yourself is learning to live in the real world – and that includes family meals.

How often do you and your family members eat together? Diane

3 thoughts on “Family Meals: Why, How, and When

  1. Leah (goodnight cheese) says:

    I was really lucky to grow up in a family where we ate dinner together every night. My dad even left for work at 6 a.m. so that he could be home for dinner. I don’t know how much or if it even impacted my weight issues, but there was always a salad on the table!

    Now it’s just my husband and we, and we eat together most nights. He’s in school so sometimes he just needs to scarf something down while working, but we try to time his breaks so that he can eat together.

  2. Janis says:

    Italian family here: we ate together every night. It took an inhuman amount of work for my parents to make it happen. I still remember the to-the-second choreographed routine my parents would go through when they got home at night from work, with my mom going upstairs to change into her knockaround clothes from her elegant business clothes, and my dad immediately going upstairs to sort laundry. Then, my mom would hit the kitchen to prepare dinner (which I’d helped pre-prepare by stripping the chicken skin off and chopping vegetables), as my dad carried armloads of laundry down the cellar to the washing machine. They worked so hard to make it all happen, but not once did we eat crap. Not once. (I have no idea how single mothers do it. The only reason stuff happened was because there were two of them doing it all.)

  3. Babbalou says:

    Hi Diane, I’ve been so busy I haven’t been checking in very often although I have recommended your blog to others. I also feel that family dinners are so important! When my kids were still at home we ate together almost every night (except for the nights when there was sports practice and then a music lesson immediately following – but then I always packed a dinner for them to eat in transit which was full of fruit and vegetables and a healthy sandwich.) In addition to being an opportunity to talk and bond together as a family, the foods we give our children really do influence what foods they like to eat as adults. I always made vegetables the focus of my meals and now both of my sons not only cook for their wives, they both say they will eat just about any vegetable and neither of them are very fond of sweets. I have just returned from visiting one of my sons who lives in another country and we stopped at a grocery store on the way to his apartment. I said I’d buy some groceries – so was there anything special he wanted me to buy for him and his new bride? The answer -“salmon would be wonderful!”

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