It’s always been my goal to eat dinner together as a family, but our busy lives have gotten in the way. My husband gets home late. My kids are picky. It’s just been easier to feed them before my husband gets home and prepare a more elaborate meal for him and me to eat later.
March is Nutrition Month and dietitians across the country are helping Canadians unlock the potential of food and find ways to make eating together a priority. Food is more than just necessary nutrition. Food fuels our bodies, helps to prevent chronic disease and can heal what ails. But, just as important, food brings us together through shared experiences with our families.
I made it a New Year’s resolution for us to start eating together as a family. I have felt that I’ve been missing out on the opportunity to share a meal and share our day, and I’m sick of my children eating hot dogs. Sharing meals opens dialogue, connects us and helps us, especially our children, eat a more balanced diet. But, there’s more.
According to Jennifer House, dietitian, mom of three and owner of First Step Nutrition in Calgary, AB, the benefits of eating together as a family are far reaching.
“Family meals are a great habit to get into,” she said. “Adolescents who have regular family meals not only eat a more nutritious diet, but get better grades in school and are less likely to be involved in risky behaviours like drug and alcohol use.”
Meals shouldn’t just be about food. In fact, House says the food should be the vehicle to sit down. Not the reason. “Don’t necessarily use dinners to focus on the food, or how much your child is eating, but consider them a chance to connect. It’s a good time for conversation, my kids love sharing their “highs and lows” from the day at dinnertime!”
Canadians are busy! In a recent Ipsos survey, 30 per cent of Canadians said it’s challenging to find time to eat meals with friends and family. We are all stretched for time, but House says that it’s easier than we think to find that sliver of time to eat together.
“Eating together doesn’t have to happen every dinner. Try to prioritize at least a few family meals per week, maybe it’s Saturday brunch and Sunday dinner. Sitting together doesn’t have to be at the family table, it can be at the baseball field or in the car.”
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my house, and one of the main reasons I’ve waited this long to make eating together a priority, is that my kids are picky and I don’t want to have grilled cheese at every meal. House says that eating together offers the perfect opportunity to expand your picky eater’s horizons.
“Let every member of the family choose one evening of the week when they can pick the recipe and help prepare it,” she recommends. “Have something basic that everyone likes to eat – even if they’re picky and don’t want to branch out to try new foods. It could be as simple as carrot sticks or buns.”
For many of us, it feels like the prospect of finding the time and energy to sit down to eat together with all our busy schedules is near impossible. House says that doesn’t have to be the case.
“Meal planning is key,” she says. “You must have a plan to avoid shopping daily and fast food trips.” Her two biggest tips? Make freezer meals and cook well in advance.
“Make double or triple of one item and use it throughout the week in different recipes. For example, cook a bunch of chicken breasts one night and use the extras in a stir fry the next time, and quesadillas the following night,” she suggests, adding the recommendation to throw extras in the freezer to use later.
House says the value of eating together as a family is undeniable, but the last thing she wants is for meal time to be pressure. Meal time should be about spending time together, not being stressed. Plan ahead, get everyone involved, and don’t use meal time as a time to scold or discipline picky eaters. Most of all, enjoy the quality time spent together because it’s all too hard to come by.
Dietitians are a great resource. They are passionate about the potential of food to enhance lives and improve health. Visit www.nutritionmonth2018.ca and learn some pro tips from Canadian dietitians, get access to nutritious recipes, the Cookspiration app, and the inspiration you need to help you and your family make nutrition a focus.
This post is brought to you by the Dietitians of Canada, but the opinions are our own.