What you Don’t Know About Family Meals

My friend Yaffi is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, and to help take off some of my stress load I asked if she could write something for you. Here she elaborates on what makes a family meal a good one, why they are important, and what they should include. With my kids in two different households and coming home at all different hours, with packed schedules. family dinners can be hard to do, but at the bare minimum we have two a week, but try to have at least a couple more. 

Hi! Let’s chat about family meals. They are good. Tons of benefits. All the good stuff.

To contrast, eating Red Vines alone, while hiding in the pantry is not good. For starters, Twizzlers are so much better.

I said what I said.

But I want to focus on what you don’t know about family meals. Stick with me here. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (from laughing, obviously), and you’ll maybe possibly think that you’re doing ok already.

How do I know you’re doing ok? If you’re still with me, caring about your child’s nutrition is not the first good thing you’ve done, nor the most recent. Caring is a constant. Sometimes it’s a balloon and other times it’s a heavy suitcase. But you’re here and I’m here and we can lean on each other through the absolute scam joy that is parenting.

1. What is a family meal?

This seems like a simple one. It’s this:

Yep, mother, father, son daughter, and even grandparents. All families look like this, right? What? This doesn’t represent your situation in the slightest? Oh not really mine either, actually.

Family meals can look like a lot of different things.

Whoever is in the home comes together over food.

2. Farting is Seriously Better than Politics

That one could really stand alone in many situations.

What I’m getting at here is the table atmosphere. If you expect your kids to sit at the table with you, you have to make it enjoyable. That means conversation during that time has to be engaging for the whole family. Hence, farts over politics.

What about manners? Yeah, I know! It’s super rude to talk about personal politics! The point isn’t to recreate the atmosphere of Saturn around your dinner table. The point is to lighten up the mood. Here is a good list of conversation topics for the table.

3. Being Lazy is the Best!

Seriously! Some of the best things you can do for your kids involve getting out of their way… while modeling how to take care of yourself! Bonus points!
  • Serve family style–big bowls. No plating.
  • Everyone serve yourself–provide little tongs or spoons so even toddlers can get in on the independence-promoting action!
  • Have your child serve you! No, really. Check this out. When the child puts food on their parent’s plate, that’s a positive interaction with that food. Seeing the parent eat and enjoy it is another step toward sparking curiosity. This is a great way to gently introduce a new food to a child who gets anxious around food. (Note: invite the child to do it, but if they resist, avoid pushing further.)
  • Dessert on the table with dinner! This is an approach used with kids who seem super interested in sweets. Yeah, it’s counterintuitive, but trust me here. When you save dessert for after the meal, you
    • Have another set of dishes to clean.
    • Show the family that when they are full of dinner, they should become overfull of dessert. I just like to encourage a comfortable belly all the time.
    • Dessert is so special, it’s its own meal. This further implies that the rest of the meal is something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
  • When you switch to serving dessert as a part of dinner, you
    • Show that sweet is just another flavor we can enjoy.
    • Put all the food available on the table and everyone has a better chance to eat the right amount without feeling uncomfortable in any direction. (Note: the right amount is the amount of food that the body requests via the appetite, not the glorified marketing tool printed on the side of the package.)
    • Get to sit down longer.

4. Bring On the Take Out!

Guess what? If you buy food at a drive-through and eat it together, it’s a family meal! Even if you eat it in the car (but, really only if you pull over and stop the car to eat). Even if you walk into McDonald’s and order food and grab a booth and sit down there together. Or microwaved frozen burritos. Family Meal. Bam.

Is a dietitian telling me to eat fast food? Isn’t it unhealthy?

No, and no. I don’t tell people what to eat. I help make eating happier.

That second part though– that’s a stickler.

Let’s define health.

Sure, fast food doesn’t have a lot to offer nutritionally but calling any given thing unhealthy is short-sighted and superficial.

Physical health isn’t the only type of health, and moreover, it isn’t the most important type of health. You know this already, though. You already know that it’s important to care for your mental health. You know how essential your social health is too.

If you want to be healthy and you also want to eat fast food, try this–enjoy it. Laugh over it. Eat it with people you love.

Family meals are so beneficial because they hit all of our sweet spots–all the spots around that graphic above.

A meal shared in a warm and loving environment is it. That’s the goal. That’s everything.

So, what’s for dinner?

How often do you have family dinner? Did you have family meals together as a kid?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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