sSeptember is National Family Meals Month, which was originally launched by FMI in September 2015. The initiative began by encouraging Americans to try to eat only family meals. once again A weekly meal at home. It has since grown into a full-fledged movement.

While gathering around the table with family may be more difficult than you think, research shows it’s totally worth it. Eating together offers many benefits for everyone, including social and mental benefits, as well as improved performance in school and the workplace, as well as improved cognition.

Family meals also have a strong impact on nutrition and nutritional outcomes. 2020 systematic review, published in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Found that family meals improve fruit and vegetable consumption in children and adults. Most Americans don’t get enough fruits and vegetables, so that extra bump can make a difference.

Some other benefits of family meals include better family functioning outcomes, reduced teen substance use, reduced symptoms of depression, violence, and suicide, higher self-esteem, and a greater sense of resilience.

Why have family meals decreased?

With all these benefits, it’s worth asking why we can’t prioritize family meals more.

Some literature suggests that family meals have declined by approximately 33 percent in the past 20 years, yet the desire is still there and the tides may be changing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of family meals and there is hope that this trend will stick.

Whereas the norm was for families to eat together, The changing landscape has brought new challenges. First, today there are more single-generation families, and this number has continually increased. In addition, there are now many adaptations to the 9-to-5 workday, and more women (historically the primary preparers of family meals) work outside the home. So, “dinner” as we know it can take on many variations. Add to this the rising cost of groceries and the fact that Generation X and Millennials are cooking less, and it’s easy to understand how and why family meals have changed.

However, the emergence of meal kits and convenient food delivery options does not have to negate the effort of family meals, and can in fact be beneficial to family meals. After all, these meal options can still be enjoyed together, and arguably make a family dinner situation come together more easily.

What constitutes a “family meal” for one family may differ from another

The definition of family is constantly evolving; So, even friends who eat together on a regular basis can constitute a “family meal,” says David Fikes, executive director of the FMI Foundation.

“A family meal is the intentional attempt of a family by birth or a family by choice to sit together at a table to share a meal and in the process share our lives,” he says.

In terms of deciding what does or does not happen during a family meal, this can be up to each individual family. Some families may set table manners guidelines, such as omitting the use of cell phones, while others may use conversation starters so everyone can answer.

How family meals usually lead to better nutritional intake for everyone

Often it’s not so much what is offered, but also what these congregations offer – education, connection and perhaps even a sense of purpose. “It’s a good idea to involve all generations in the growing process, planning menus, shopping, and preparing family meals,” says Fikes. “This adds to family interaction time, plus it often provides an easy way to bring science and math applications into everyday situations. We also know that (younger) young people are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables that they had a role in growing or selecting.” Or prepare it.

Having a family dinner routine, when possible, allows for the exchange of connections, the sharing of messages and values, and just that reminder that “we are here together” for solidarity.

As a mother of three young children ages five and under, I’m a big proponent of sitting together as a family when possible. First, I know it helps reduce picky eating, as my kids see me eating what is served to them. Second, I appreciate how this allows them to see the meal process unfold from start to finish, which can generate more interest in the food. For example, if we buy frozen broccoli from the grocery store, they now see it transformed (baked and seasoned) at the table, served alongside other ingredients.

Third, I know that as my kids get older, time will become more precious. They’ll want to spend more of it with their friends, and we may go back and forth from more activities in the dinner hour.

It takes commitment and some planning to pull off a family meal, but the mental, emotional, and nutritional benefits it provides are worth the investment.

Here are some tried-and-true ways to prepare a family meal in minutes

  • Keep pantry staples on hand because these healthy, convenient items can help make a one-pot meal more achievable.
  • Purchase pre-cut fruits and vegetables or meal kits from the grocery store (e.g., salad kits, taco kits).
  • Pair the remaining portions with a new side to give the meal a new flavor.
  • Announce a kids’ night and let the older kids choose the menu
  • Prepare your favorite family meal from childhood. What did you enjoy, and what do you remember about it? What memories can you make with your family now?

Focusing your family meal on a theme (tacos, pizza, or even a movie/show night are all good options) or switching things up (serving breakfast for dinner!) offer fun nostalgic meal ideas that can be ready relatively quickly, too.

Trying to stick to just one family meal a week, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, can make a big difference. Or, if it’s not a meal, sharing a snack together can yield the same benefits.

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