Most people say that they would love to eat together as a family every day but because of working hours it is not possible. We all have to deal with reality and if even one parent gets home from work late, it can be difficult to eat together.
I have also heard parents with young children say that although they know family meals are important that they just want to be able to eat dinner in peace without the constant demands of their children requesting things.
One way parents can compensate is for the family to eat together at weekends. It may also be possible to start having meals together during the week once the children are older as they eat later. Research shows that eating family meals with teenagers improves their wellbeing and decreases their risk of drug abuse, sexual intercourse and involvement in violent behaiours. For example, Eisenberg and colleagues (2004) showed that teenagers who frequently ate with their family, smoked less, drank less, had better grades at school and fewer symptoms of depression.
Once parents understand the significance of family meals, it becomes more of a priority. Eating meals together, can influence children to eat more fruit and vegetables. They are also less likely to drink fizzy soft drinks (Gillman et al., 2000).
If you don’t have a dinner table in your house, try not to give into the temptation of eating dinner in front of the television. Having the television on during meals can lead children to eat fewer fruit and vegetables and more snack foods (Patrick and Nicklas, 2003).
Parents can use mealtimes to catch up on their children’s day and to talk about what is happening in their lives. Family meals also allow parents to teach their children good communication skills and eating habits.
Five Guidelines for Family Mealtimes:
1) Be a good role model for your child by eating more fruit and vegetables.
2) Eat the same food as your child at mealtimes and have frequent meals together.
3) Do not watch TV at mealtimes.
4) Do not force your child to finish their meals if they are not hungry and give age-appropriate portions.
5) Give your child positive attention at mealtimes. Discuss your child’s day.