Why I Love Family Meals

We all know the feeling. Before we became parents, we had this image of what a perfect family looks like. A neat and tidy house, a pedicured lawn, clean and well-dressed children, and nice and calm family meals.

But the reality is completely different to what we believe to be the ideal. There are definitely some elements of truth in this picture. But most of them can be really hard to maintain in this crazy and fast-paced world we live in. And on the whole, life and parenthood can get pretty messy (and not necessarily in a bad way).

Which is why, if there is one word of unsolicited advice I would give new parents today (and I’m not big on unsolicited advice), it would be this:

Whatever habits you start out with right from the beginning, are almost always the ones that stick!

Habits are really, really hard to break. Especially when you’re trying to juggle so many different things at once. And you’re tired most of the time (another reality of parenting that few people speak about)!

So before your first bundle of joy arrives, make sure you have a clear picture of the things that are most important to YOU. Stop comparing yourself to other families and decide what you and your family need most. Or in other words, set your priorities straight while you’re still sleeping through the night because it’s hard to think clearly when you’re not.

For me personally, I was determined to have at least one family meal together in the evenings, no matter what. And from the time my first (who is now 12) was a baby, we sat down together dinner. We ate when she did and it quickly became a habit that, to this day and another two children later, is set in stone.

There are exceptions to the rule. For example, my husband now travels a lot so he isn’t always there for dinner. But even when he’s away and I’m more stressed than usual, we always eat dinner together. I also try to make sure we only eat at the table and that there are no screens during mealtime.

Why are family meals so important?

I remember reading a lot about this subject even before I became a mom. According to an article in Stanford Children’s Health, the benefits of family meals go way beyond food. In the article, it says that:

  • The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University says that the more often children eat dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs.
  • Teens who regularly eat dinner with their families are also more likely to get better grades and do better in school. Better grades are associated with a lower risk for substance abuse.
  • Teens who eat with their families fewer than three times a week report that the TV is usually on during dinner or that the family does not talk much. Conversely, the CASA says that families where teens are frequently present at dinner find lots to talk about. Common topics include school and sports; friends and social events; current events; and even family issues and problems.
  • Family dinners have a similar link to mental health. Adolescents and young adults who seek treatment for depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems are about half as likely as their peers to have regular family meals.

The main reasons for all of this are quite simple actually:

  • Routine — routine is known to be extremely beneficial for children.
  • Time to connect — family mealtimes give children a chance to actually connect with their parents, something that is quite rare in today’s world of screens and over-stimulation.
  • Better nutrition — this on cannot be ignored and also contributes to all-over health and wellbeing.

How families can benefits from meals together

I personally find that having dinner together every night really improves our overall family dynamic. It’s a great way to wind down at the end of the day. In fact, if we miss it, I feel like the day wasn’t finished properly.

I’ve also noticed that my children, who were relatively fussy eaters when they were younger, are now willing to try and taste different things. Especially if it’s from my plate! They say that the food on my plate is always the tastiest and it always gives me a bit of a thrill.

Family meals give us a time to reflect on our days and share a bit about how we’re feeling. And, of course, it means less screen time (I’m strict about no screens at the table)!

Do it, even if it isn’t perfect or by-the-book!

That said, I’ve learned something really important recently, especially after my husband started a very demanding job that involves a lot of travelling. As I am spread a little too thin during this crazy times, I often need to make the choice between eating takeaway pizza with them or cooking a more nutritional meal and not sitting with them. And I have to say that I choose pizza every single time! Because at the end of the day, children need a mom and not a supermom!

I’ve learned to fight my battles and give myself a bit of slack. Personally, once I made my priorities clear and having dinner with them is one of them, the choice is alot easier to make!

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Originally published at one-day.life on November 7, 2018.