Have you ever heard the saying, “Dinner is better when we eat together”? Well, it’s not just because it encourages family bonding – it turns out that when families eat together, it helps to establish healthy eating behaviour and habits in younger children, and leads to better choices being made around food.
With the increasing demands of everyday life, it can seem impossible to find the time to sit down for a shared meal every day so remember that it doesn’t have to be dinner – sharing breakfast, even if it’s just a smoothie or a bowl of cereal – is just as beneficial.
Sitting down as a family for a meal helps to build connections and grow parent/child relationships. It creates a dedicated time in the day for you to catch up with your children, and they are more likely to feel comfortable and secure sharing their observations and concerns from the day with you if these meals are a regular occurrence.
Studies have also shown that children aged 13 and under who regularly sit down to meals with their parents exhibit fewer behavioural problems, perform better at school, have higher self-esteem and are generally healthier and happier.
As an added bonus: toddlers who enjoy social meals with their families show signs of improved language development.
Teaching them responsibility
It’s not just about the time spent around the table making memories and having fun, family bonding can take place during cooking and washing the dishes, too.
And it’s an opportunity for you to give children tasks that make them feel involved and that they’re contributing to the wellbeing of the family – that can be anything from setting the table to loading the dishwasher or helping with food prep.
Giving them some responsibility sends the message that everyone in the family has an important role to play.
Good food choices
It’s well-known that children adopt eating habits from their parents so sitting down to a meal gives you an opportunity to model healthy behaviours for the younger members of the family.
A survey carried out in 2000 found that children and teens who ate dinner with their families tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink fewer fizzy drinks and eat less fried foods.
Plus, these children stand less chance of struggling with disordered eating and obesity later in life. Start your little one on a healthy, balanced diet when weaning to solids from 6 months as this will help set them up for a life of balanced, nutritious eating.
There are a lot of benefits to cooking and eating at home; homecooked meals are usually more nutritious and less fat-laden than takeaways – and batch cooking is a good way to keep the cost of family meals down.
Listen to your body
Having tech-free meals will also make it easier for everyone to tune into their bodies ‘full’ cues, and teaches younger members of the family to do the same. So, sit down, slow down, eat mindfully and savour your food together.
This article was originally written for Squish.
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