Kids who participate in family meals consume more fruits and vegetables. Not to mention that toddlers who eat regular family meals have better vocabularies, girls are less likely to develop eating disorders, and school-age kids are likely to get better grades.
The good news is most American families still have regular family meals. According to Gallup, 53 percent of adults with children younger than 18 still have dinner together at home 6 or 7 nights per week. But it can be difficult to coordinate schedules so that mom and dad are both home from work and the kids are home from lacrosse practice, dance class, and piano lessons all at the same time.
8 Tips to Make Family Meals Healthy and Fun
1. Let go of unrealistic expectations. Stop worrying about the way dinner is "supposed to be". Whether it's an organic frozen pizza and a salad or from scratch pasta, the point is to be together. Maybe you don't have tons of time to prepare dinner or maybe your family doesn't have tons of time to sit together. Let go of unrealistic expectations and enjoy the time together.
2. Set limits. While you don't want to set unrealistic expectations, you do want to set limits. The dinner table should be a technology-free zone. Smart phones, video games and tablets should not be allowed for kids as well as parents.
3. Find a time that works. If mom or dad doesn't get home from work until after 7 pm but junior is hungry by 5:30 pm, maybe dinner isn't the best time of day to get together as a family. Try a breakfast family meal together instead. Kids are still catching up with their parents, which provides all the necessary benefits.
4. Don't push. Be considerate of your kids but don't cater to them. Don't change the meal, but don't force them to eat it either. Introducing kids to new foods doesn't come all at once. For example, serve up a vegetable chowder with a side of sliced apples and crusty bread and allow the kids to serve themselves. Don't label your kids as picky or fussy eaters because then they'll strive to live up to the label.
5. Know your child's limits. Don't expect an infant to sit through a two hour meal. Of course these numbers vary, but you can expect a toddler to sit and behave for about 10 to 15 minutes and a 5 to 6 year old for 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Make it a theme night. Light candles and have a backyard night or have a picnic night. Have international night and decorate around the theme. Play music, string lights, and make fun finger foods for the kids.
7. Have a "make your own meal" night. Serve mini pizzas with toppings to add or have burrito or taco night where the kids can fill their own tortillas or taco shells. Or consider a yummy baked potato bar.
8. Serve dinner family-style. Lay everything out on the table and let the child and other family members choose what they are to put on their own plate. Be sure to have some of their favorite foods as well as some new ones.