By Megan Brownell, RD, CDCES
All caregivers have likely thought about this common concern, “How can I get my family to eat healthier?” You may have even conducted an internet search asking the same question. Consider one strategy that may not show up on the top of those search results: eating meals together as a family.
According to the Family Dinner Project, the benefits of eating meals together as a family are numerous and even include some beyond healthy eating. Family meals provide an opportunity for communication, bonding, and building relationships. Eating together can promote a sense of belonging and strengthen family bonds.
Benefits of family meals specific to children include healthier eating patterns, higher self-esteem, better academic performance, and even lower risk of substance abuse and depression. Research shows similar benefits for adults.
If the idea of having family mealtimes together in your house sounds overwhelming, try some of these strategies to help ease the transition, as recommended by the Family Dinner Project:
- Keep it simple. Family meals do not have to be fancy or time-consuming. Focus on simple, healthy meals that are easy to prepare. Check out these kid-friendly, low-cost recipes from Cooking Matters.
- Make it a priority. Schedule dates or times for family meals, especially if your calendar is full of events like school activities or sports.
- Involve the whole family with mealtime tasks. Tasks appropriate for ages 2-5 may include washing produce, selecting recipes or food items at the store, and setting out lightweight, non-breakable items like utensils or napkins.
- Focus on the fun. Make mealtime a positive experience where family members can connect with each other. Try some of these conversation starters at your next family meal to keep mealtimes focused on positivity and connection:
- Talk about two things that made you feel grateful today.
- What is your favorite silly face and sound to make?
- What is your favorite food to eat when it is hot outside?
- If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
- Limit distractions. Encourage everyone to put away electronics and distractions at mealtime to promote conversation and connection.
If you are looking for ways to provide healthy foods at your family meals, WIC may be able to help. The WIC program supports the health of infants, young children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women healthy by providing services like free, healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, eggs, cheese, and milk. WIC also provides breastfeeding support, nutrition education, and referrals to care beyond WIC.
To find out more information about the Valley-Wide WIC program, click here. If you think someone in your care or yourself may qualify, contact the WIC office at 719-589-5860 or complete a referral form at www.ColoradoWICSignUp.com. Participation in WIC is free for moms, dads, grandparents, foster parents, and all Colorado families who qualify.