The Importance of Family Mealtime

amily mealtime is when everyone at home sits down and enjoys a meal together. This can be at breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. It has been shown that families who eat together are healthier and happier. It is important for families to cook together, eat together, talk together and make mealtime a family time.

The Benefits of Family Mealtime

* Relationships- Eating together helps build a close relationship with your children. It gives everyone in the family a chance to learn more about each other. Turn off the TV and do not answer the phone during mealtime. Instead use this time to talk, connect, and make memories together. It is a lesson your children will use for life.
* Better nutrition- Meals prepared at home are usually more nutritious than meals eaten while dining out.
* Portion sizes- Children learn about correct portion sizes, food groups, and nutrition when eating with their family. Let the children learn by serving themselves at dinner. Teach them to take small amounts at first. Tell them they can get more if they are still hungry.
* Stability- Eating with your child gives them a sense of security. Studies show that this decreases the chances that the child will engage in activities such as smoking and drinking.
* Saves money- Eating at home saves the family money. It is cheaper to cook meals at home than it is to dine out.
* Cooking skills- Get everyone involved in meal preparation. Kids love to help prepare food. Letting them help prepare food will help them feel valued and part of the family.
* Social skills- Eating together as a family gives the children an opportunity to learn and practice their social skills, table manners, and conversation skills.
* New foods- Offer your children new foods, but do not force them to eat it. Let them choose how much to eat. Kids are more likely to enjoy a food when eating it is their own choice. It also helps them learn to be independent.
Keys to Enjoyable Family Mealtimes

* Have a health snack ready- Arriving home from school or work may be hectic and children may be ready to eat right away. Have a healthy snack ready for kids to enjoy before dinner time.
* Make mealtime timely- Kids need time to sit down and eat their food, but it does not have to take a long time. Sitting for too long can lead to irritability and decrease mealtime enjoyment.
* Meals do not have to be fancy- Meals for the family do not have to involve a lot of preparation and time. They can be pre-made meals or simple recipes.
* Plan ahead to save time- For example, cook double the amount of meat you need on Monday night, so that you can use the extra precooked meat for Tuesday’s meal.
* Be a good example- You children are more likely to eat a variety of healthy foods if they see you doing it first. Try to include food from each of the five food groups.
Family mealtime can bring challenges. Try turning off the TV, ask other adult family members to give mealtimes a chance, and work to make mealtime a priority around work and children’s activities. Also, consider allowing children to express their feelings about the food they like and dislike and them pick the meal a few nights a week. Get them involved in preparing the meal. It will make them more eager to eat the meal, according to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension NEP Program. If you run out of ideas, contact the Extension office!

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