Expert reasons to make time for family meals

There are a number of excellent reasons family meal time should take place on a regular schedule. It may be difficult to arrange, but the overall benefits are worth it. (Photo courtesy of USU Extension)

LOGAN — It appears a minority of American families eat one meal together every day while many don’t. In today’s fast-paced world, eating Sunday dinner as a family is a great tradition, but it is a giant step away from more regular or daily time spent eating and socializing around the table – which was the norm just one generation ago.

In recognition of this, one might ask, “Why all the fuss about sitting down together for a routine that may only last 15-20 minutes?” In reality, the benefits are actually numerous.

Utah State University (USU) Extension’s Create Better Health Utah (SNAP-Ed) program lists a few of the benefits – especially for children whose families eat together five or more times a week as opposed to those whose families eat together two times or less each week:

Nutrition, physical

Nutrition and physical development is improved as kids eat more fruits and vegetables during family meal time. The children get a wider variety of nutritious foods and have lower rates of childhood obesity. Because they become used to eating more fruits and vegetables the children do make healthier choices when they are on their own.

Emotional development

Eating together leads to children becoming better able to manage negative emotions, are at less risk of developing eating disorders, and have more positive interactions with others.

Social development

Kids learn important turn-taking skills during family meals, have improved communication skills and learn appropriate ways to share thoughts, feelings and opinions.

Academics

Because of family meals, children are more likely to earn A’s and B’s in school, and will develop larger vocabularies – even more than those who read together with their parents.

Behavior

Eating meals together leads to children who are much less likely to use marijuana, alcohol or tobacco or have friends who use these substances. They are also less likely to engage in other risky behavior such as premarital sex.

If a family is new to the idea of eating meals together, there will undoubtedly be a few challenges. For example, it may be unrealistic to go from zero meals together to one every day.

So, set a realistic goal all family members can agree on – it may very well just be Sunday dinner once a week and that is a great start. If dinner isn’t the best option, perhaps having family breakfast time on Saturday may work better for the family.

Here are some additional tips for making family mealtime a positive experience:

1. Plan meals ahead of time;

2. Schedule a set time for meals;

3. Involve all family members in the meal prep and clean up;

4. Turn off the TV, phones and all other electronic devices;

5. Have pleasant conversations and leave discipline and other negative emotions for another time.

Additional helps are available online from Create Better Health Utah, including conversation starter ideas and making meals fun using themes, such as Taco Tuesday. Ideas for menu planning with recipes are also available.

Parents can learn more about family mealtime and eating healthy on a limited budget by visiting https://createbetterhealthutah.org/ or contact the local USU Extension office to find out about upcoming classes taught by certified nutrition education assistants in the area.

The Ephraim USU Extension office is located at 325 West 100 North, Ephraim, call (435) 283-3472 or visit online at http://extension.usu.edu/sanpete/. Office hours are Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., or by appointment.

From the Create Better Health homepage, users can select from a variety of resources for menu planning, preparing foods, eating healthier and incorporating physical activity in the day.

Create Better Health also has a local Facebook presence in most counties. For example, in Iron County, search for “Create Better Health Iron County” or see “Create Better Health Utah State University.”

Users should note that the USU Extension online resources are being updated from the previous program name, Food $ense, to the new Create Better Health name, so some information may still be housed under the Food $ense name.