Let’s be honest, I’m a busy mom just like you. I work from home, while being a stay at home mom, while managing a house, kid duties, kid activities, laundry, dinner, workouts, etc. I don’t wear this busy-ness with pride. In fact, I am in a constant state of trying to find more breathing room. Personally, I don’t want to be so busy that I can’t do the things I enjoy, or fully be present in each moment (which, trust me, I know first-hand, is harder than it appears). I’ve been there, I don’t plan to go back. For that reason, I purposefully try and find space, not just for me, but for my children, to be creative, laugh, learn, listen, and simply just… be. In order to create this environment for my own family I insist on regular family meals. I am also an advocate for family meals in every family – no matter your shape, size, or culture. Family meals have more importance than you might realize.
Eating a family meal, as a family, keeps the kids talking. Let me set up a scene for you: I pick my kids up from school I ask “How was your day” they say “Good. I’m hungry did you bring snacks?” I continue to ask questions: you know the creative ones they tell you to ask – “what made you laugh?” “learn anything new?” “did the teacher do anything crazy?” I don’t think I need to repeat them. But sure, they get answered, quickly, without a lot of detail. See, when I pick my kids up from school they are usually two things: hungry and mentally/emotionally exhausted. They have been using all of their God given talents and resources for the last 7 hours. The last thing they want is to answer a bunch of mom’s questions. Fast forward to dinner: At dinner, I barely need to ask any questions! They just talk! We all talk…together. They can’t wait to tell me everything that happened that day. Granted sometimes this means we are sitting at the dinner table for longer than I’d like (I mean, bed time is right around the corner folks), but they are talking, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Which means the family meal has more purpose.
Family meals teach body positivity. I am completely aware that I am raising girls. Not only am I raising girls, but I’m raising girls while simultaneously working in the fitness/nutrition industry. An industry that can, in some ways be harsh, or promote a certain look as the “best look.” Now, if you know me, you know I don’t really fall into those norms of the fitness industry. I bare all my stretch marks, cellulite, bloating and health challenges. I eat muffins and balance it with other options. However, having girls made me consciously aware of how I talk about myself, how I talk about others AND how I even look in the mirror when I’m getting ready in the morning. But if the simple act of having a regular family meal can teach body positivity, you’d better believe I’m going to add that to arsenal! Research published in the Journal of Social Work in Public Health had findings that suggest families who regularly eat breakfast and family meals with parents may also encourage better body image among youth. I’d argue that it can also create better body image for ourselves moms and dads. Creating a healthy nutritious meal at home will never make you feel bad about yourself.
Family meals could mean better academic performance. A study done at Brock University found that family eating behaviors have an impact on a child’s academic performance. What I find interesting is that the study also suggested that the less optimal a mother’s eating habits were meant lower grades in math and overall for the child. The good news is, the children showed promise in leadership, which is awesome! But why not give our kids a leg up? In all honesty, grades aren’t the number one priority in our house. We care more about if you are trying your hardest, you are in the pursuit of knowledge/understanding, and you are a good human being. Grades don’t tell the whole picture. The more important question I find myself asking is, if having a family meal helps my kids perform their best, whatever their best might be, why wouldn’t we?
Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
Family meals mean we are all eating better. A study I found through Stanford University Medical Center suggested that eating a family meal at dinner was associated with healthful dietary intake patterns, including more fruits and vegetables and more fiber and micro-nutrients. Ummmm, hello!!?? Okay, let’s say you don’t have kids in the house. It’s just you and your spouse, or you and older children. Or you and older parents. Eating together means you are ALL EATING BETTER! I mean isn’t that what we all want anyway? To eat better? One of the biggest tips I give clients is to incorporate MORE vegetables and fruits in their every day intake. You guys, the reason fruits and vegetables are so colorful is because they contain something called phytonutrients – these nutrients are ESSENTIAL to our well-being and to us THRIVING! I won’t lie, I steam a lot of broccoli and set it on the table with dinner. Sometimes my kids eat 1 and I find myself eating the leftovers in my eggs the next morning. But sometimes, and it’s a glorious sometimes, they eat it all! But it would never happen if we weren’t all sitting down together eating dinner.
Our family meals have rules. These rules teach confidence, communication, respect, and manners. Being a parent is hard. If it were easy, well, more people wouldn’t stop at 2. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we stop parenting. It also shouldn’t mean we stop eating family meals.
Rule 1: At any family meal whether it be at home or in a restaurant: NO TECHNOLOGY. No phones, no iPad’s, no television. We have the occasional movie night where we eat pizza on the couch and watch television. But for the most part we eat, we talk. It’s taken years but my children have learned how to communicate with us, each other, and other adults at the dining table. And it’s because they had to learn to. They had to learn how to behave, and they are still learning, maybe so am I. But had I placed a phone in front of them that would never happen. And if I were on my phone, they would feel ignored and unimportant as proven in research.
Rule 2: This is our family meal, you don’t have to eat, but what’s served is what’s for dinner. No whining. Be grateful. We are still working on this one. And there are days where it doesn’t go the way I want it to. But I provide a pretty good supply of options at the table throughout the week. They need to learn to be grateful that there is food on the table at all 😉 they eat what we eat, we eat what they eat.
Rule 3: We sit with each other, we face our food, we can talk and laugh, but we will be respectful of one another, we learn to listen to one another intently even if it’s about the latest Mickey Mouse episode, and we don’t interrupt each other when someone else is talking. We are still working on this one too. They ask to be excused. And everyone helps clear the table. Eventually, everyone will help with clean-up. All of this teaches so many skills; listening, table manners, helpfulness, communication, love, kindness, respectfulness….etc etc etc.
Making family meals happen takes planning. It can be challenging with busy schedules, but we find a way. And even if it isn’t every night of the week, it is certainly on the weekends. Breakfast counts. Lunch counts. Granted sometimes it’s just three of us, but we still do it, and my husband makes a constant effort to be home for dinner and eats breakfast with us or the kids regularly. I realize things may change as the kids get older, but then so will I. I will make it a priority and we will continue to find a way to navigate through it. As for now, we have family meals because I:
· Plan our meals
· Prep our meals if needed
· Know and work around schedules
· Make family time a priority
· Say no to some extracurricular activities (we and they can’t do it all folks!)
· Turn off the television and technology
· Make nutrition a priority
What’s your take on family meals?