October is Eat Better Eat Together Month

What’s the fuss about family meals?

Research has given us important clues that point to the many benefits of family meals. How long has it been since your family has sat down to eat a meal together? This October, challenge yourself to make family meals a new priority.

Why eat together?

Studies provide us with information that show us family meals are generally healthier, which means they include more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and fiber — less greasy fried foods, and usually fewer calories as well. The more family meals per week seems also to be related to a healthier body weight.

In addition, they provide a foundation for family relationships, especially as kids get older. At the family meal, members have time to talk, listen and connect with one another. Youth who eat more family meals often have better mental and physical health — less depression, less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs and have lower crimerelated behavior.

How can we do this? Life is so busy.

Some family experts recommend taking out your family schedules and planning in family meals that work within member work, school and volunteer activities. Even if it is only a short time, turn off TV, cell phones, e-readers or anything else that makes noise or is a distraction so you may focus and be mindful of what and how much you are eating, be a role model for your children and focus on each other.

Make the time pleasant and positive — ask your kids to share about their day and you about yours. Be flexible — getting up a few minutes earlier and eating breakfast together may be easier than planning an evening meal for some families.

Encourage family members to help with everything from meal planning to preparation — depending on age, of course. These will be lifelong skills your child/children will take with them when they are living on their own and/or raising their own families. Keep things simple on busy days — being healthy doesn’t require extra time, but it does require planning. You need to have healthy foods in the house to put together a balanced meal. Take the time for a little prep work, such as making a shopping list.

Keep in mind healthy choices when you plan your meals:

» Include at least one selection from each of the main food groups — grains, vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy and lean protein foods.

» Limit your intake of foods that are high in fat — focus on healthy fats.

» Incorporate high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, dry beans, nuts and seeds.

On your day off, prepare meals ahead and freeze for the week, or make double on a night when you have the time and freeze half for another day’s meal.

Even busy families can still work together to put together a healthy meal — adults can be in charge of the main dish, older kids can prepare the salad and little ones can set the table.

Remember to make the most of your family meals and make conversation part of the meal time — turn off distractions, and tune in to family!

Jean Pittner, RDN, CD, CBE, is a dietician for the Division of Public Health and cochair of the HSC2020 Activity and Nutrition Coalition.