Mealtime in many households is neither relaxing nor healthy. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can establish a habit with your family where you eat healthy meals together. This isn’t always easy, but the rewards are many and you might just decide it’s worth the effort.
American society is filled with single parent households. For families that do have two parents living together, it’s more common than not to find both parents are working outside the home.
Add the fact that most children have schedules that are packed full of school, homework, extra-curricular activities, and often jobs, and time with friends to the mix, it’s no wonder that the idea of having meals together as a family seems impossible.
Then there’s the healthy part -- who has time to make healthy meals from scratch? Instead, families who do eat together often rely on fast-food restaurants, take-out, or delivery rather than making the meals themselves.
Often, the cost of these meals seems very affordable. You might rationalize that it gives you more time to spend with your family in other ways or it’s the only way you can have a warm meal at all.
On the other hand, you rationally know that fast-food isn’t the healthiest choice you can make for your family. While it may seem affordable and even cheaper than buying fresh ingredients from the supermarket now the long-term costs may cause you to a different conclusion.
Looking around the neighborhood, it’s probably easy to see some of the physical ramifications of these poor eating choices. Childhood obesity is at its highest level in the U.S. and continues to rise. Obesity brings with it a variety of illnesses that are largely preventable. Type 2 Diabetes used to be called “adult onset diabetes” because it was so rarely seen in children originally. That’s no longer true.
Diabetes is probably the most familiar result of obesity. Children are also suffering from high cholesterol, metabolic issues, joint deterioration, and any number of other ailments that are directly related to their excess weight which is a result of their unhealthy lifestyles and food choices.
Additionally, children who are overweight or obese tend to remain overweight as adults. Typically, they become heavier, not more slender. With added weight comes stress on the organs, the joints, ligaments, and even bones. Hip and knee replacements are needed at younger ages. Breathing issues arise.
None of these are things that you want to pass on to your children. When you take the physical and financial costs of these long-term conditions, it can make that affordable fast food meal seem quite pricey indeed.
So you have the motivation to make healthy meals, but how do we achieve it? And even if you prepare healthy foods for your family, is it really realistic to expect the entire family to be able to sit down and eat together?
Naturally, it takes a commitment to make this a reality, as does reaching any goal. Discussing the goal and setting expectations as a family is a good way to start. One of the older children might have some good suggestions on how to pull it off. Each member of the family can chip in so the work load isn’t placed on any one member of the family.
Even researching healthy recipes and ideas online can be a task taken on by one of the children or rotated amongst the family members.
Try to be realistic about what each person is able to do -- including sitting at the table together. If a child has to practice, whether a sport, music, or other activity after school, that might bump into meal time. Meetings that run late or evening classes can also interrupt the best meal plans.
You don’t have to eat every meal together and if your schedules are overlapping, it might not be possible. Rather than setting an unrealistic goal and then feeling like a failure, set a goal that you can meet. Getting the entire family to buy into it is also an important part of having success. For example, instead of 5 nights a week, perhaps your family commitment is Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights.
Figuring out how and when to prepare the meals is also part of the success recipe. Many meals or at least components of the meals can be prepared ahead of time. Setting aside time as a family to shop for and build the basic ingredients for the week can be a time to bond as well. This way, you have an opportunity to teach children important lessons about healthy eating.
Families that eat together tend to talk. It’s a time to learn about each other and hear about what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s an opportunity to learn how your children think and for them to get to know their parents and converse with adults.
When you first start out, this may be challenging, but it’ll become second nature with practice. Some important conversations will happen over the dinner table and happy memories will be formed along with strong family bonds. So while it is not an easy goal, it is so worth it.
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