Lesson 4: The Importance of Family Meal Time (Plus Meal Plan #2)
We have given you LOADS of information, strategies and tips up until this point, so this lesson is less reading heavy, to allow for your priorities to form, and ideas and information to settle. We do of course have a brilliant interview to share and a little about Family Meal Time - which can mean A LOT for some families and be a turning point or breakthrough as it has been for THRIVE parents past.
Here's what we'll cover in this topic:
- Main benefits from eating meals as a family regularly
- What kids say about eating meals together
- Interview with the renowned paediatrician, Dr Leila Masson on children's health today
- Meal Plan #2
Using the ritual of mealtime to bond as a family is one of the great joys of being a parent. Spending time together and good communication are two of the most crucial ingredients of strong family functioning.
According to food historian Margaret Visser, the family meals are a custom dating back two million years ago “to the daily return of hunters and foragers to divide food up with their fellow”. So based on that, you could very safely say, that sharing our bounty together is a very important part of our being.
It’s that little window during the day when the family as a unit is gathered in one place, and generally with undivided attention (hint: turn the TV off for best results). It’s a time where subtle lessons can be taught and learned, and where the kids can find and appreciate themselves and others. Regular family mealtimes are crucial to fostering togetherness, communication and providing a much needed break from technology. At mealtimes parents act as social role models, teaching the social experience of eating whilst exposing kids to the wonderful variety of foods in all it’s colours, shapes and textures.
Life’s busy, don’t we all know it, but a little bit of ritual goes a long way. Regularly sitting down with your family to eat a meal, having a laugh and a joke, and a chat about what’s going on in each other’s lives not only forms strong bonds but is instrumental in creating positive eating habits.
Research shows that sharing family meals leads to increased consumption of fruit and vegetables and decreases the consumption of junk foods.
See? You too could be enjoying perfect salad greens with perfectly happy children and a perfect relaxed smile after what was surely a super peaceful not-much-on day, right?!
But seriously, let's think about it for a second… if we’re sitting down with our kids it’s communal. It's the WE tone, instead of the "ME TELLING YOU" tone.
All too common is the separate eating times, which a few times a week is fine, but we urge you to think about reducing the number of meals you all eat separately where possible.
If we’re handing food to our kids earlier than we eat, then we ‘tower’ over them while they’re sat down and we’re standing and most probably doing things in the kitchen. It’s threatening and authoritative. We swan over and check on them often and sternly say “3 more bites of broccoli” or “C’mon. You’re not getting up until that soup is finished”. It’s the wrong dynamic completely if you really think about what food and eating mean to the human spirit.
Do you do the stern vegetable lecturing? Isn't it exhausting? You can stop today. We've already shown you and shall continue to do so, all the different ways to broaden their curiosity, open them up to trying new things and getting them eating greater variety.
Eating separately also means that they rarely see US eat all the foods we're expecting them to eat. Modelling healthy eating is SO powerful. It also means we aren’t in the moment with their mealtime, discussing their day or how crunchy the celery is or how nice the roast chook is. We create ‘us vs them’ vibes instead of ‘we’re all in this together’ vibes.
The aim? Mealtime WITH a parent or both as often as you can.
Need an incentive? You’ll get their table manners happening much faster if you’re sitting with them to support the learning.
While we may struggle with certain parts of family mealtime (spilt drinks, food on the floor, talking with mouths full, fighting at the table), keep persisting, because when it works, the string of benefits is enormous. The work we put in comes back to us.
The routine of making time for each other also offers the opportunity to set an example and teach kids subtle lessons or life skills with undivided attention – about food, manners, friendships, or just everyday issues.
The main benefits of eating meals as a family regularly
Research shows three main benefits derived from regular family meals, one of them being improved nutrition and eating habits. The others are improved relationships between family members and improved social behaviour among children.
"A Sunday lunch which brings together several generations….can help lift individuals above their day-to- day concerns and encourage us to see the overriding value, strength and importance of family – with all its defects, peculiarities and quirkiness."
– Brian Babington, Chief Executive Officer of Families Australia
Improved Nutrition and Eating Habits
Overseas research has proven that eating dinners together most or all days of the week is associated with eating more healthfully. It’s incredibly important that children actually see their parents eating fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods, rather than just being told they need to eat a healthy diet. Modelling is crucial for younger children. Kids and parents who join together at mealtime consume higher amounts of important nutrients and consume less junk food, compared to families who “never” or “only sometimes” eat meals together. Family mealtimes and parental presence are associated with higher intake of fruits, vegetables and dairy food.
Eating family meals together during adolescence results in adults who eat highly nutritious foods and some American research has shown that family mealtime patterns may influence whether an adolescent develops an eating disorder (with the association being stronger for girls).
Building Self Esteem
Sharing a meal together allows an opportunity for your children to be ‘heard’. Being heard breeds confidence and self-worth within a child. They intuitively understand they are valued for their conversation, thoughts and opinions, and by the very people who love them the most. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. This type of validation is more likely to encourage and equip them to speak more often in class and/or group situations.
Improved Linguistic Skills
Family mealtime creates an environment where kids are encouraged to talk. Talking is a rather specific skill, believe it or not. When a child is allowed space to really converse and express themselves, it helps them to develop their speech, vocabulary and conversational skills, build complex arguments and support their case fluently, and to organise their thoughts on the run
Both of us growing up with ethnic family and friends, it never ceased to amaze us how we could converse in our ethnic tongue so fluently and expressively. The dinner table taught us that.
Language and Vocabulary Development
Language development, including slang and the common usage of words in their proper context, helps to expand vocabulary, particularly of food & kitchen-related items (which is also a great benefit of letting children help in the kitchen). For younger children, saying a word as you engage in an action (like stirring or cutting) helps enhance their ability to infer.
How many of us are good at this? I mean, truly? All of us need work in this area we would imagine, so why not expose the kids to this virtuous trait early on?
Learning how to listen is an enormously beneficial cognitive tool, helping kids follow and engage in conversations as they extract and exchange important and/or interesting information. They learn the commonly accepted (or not, in some cases!) values of politely talking in turn and not interrupting excessively.
We asked a few kids why mealtime is important to them - such beautiful answers!
"Because we get to be together and we get to, kinda, chat about our day." – Frankie, 8.
"Because it gives us time to sit and talk because during the day we are all at school and work and don't get to talk. Over dinner, we can hear what everyone's day was like and what we have all been up to." – Charli, 13.
"Because it's nice to sit down together and communicate without phones." – Satene, 10.
"During the day you’d usually be doing other things but when it comes to mealtime you can bring the whole family together and talk about anything and spend time together. It’s pretty cool. Eating and hanging out with family is a good mix." – Isaac, 12.
"Because I get to tell my Mum and Dad about cool stuff that happens with my friends at school." – Ollie, 7.
"Because we get to tell Mum we love her cooking. Especially her lasagne." – Millie, 6.
Kids speak the truth so purely don’t they?
Do your best to schedule in five family mealtimes per week - one or both parents at the table are both fine. If that sounds like an impossible task for now, how about you try and schedule 2 family meals and build from there after a time. Remember it’s not just about the frequency of mealtime, but equally about the quality, and engagement is crucial. So turn off all distractions like TV, radio, Ipads, toys and books, to allow for natural social interaction and bonding to occur between the family.
Make the less-full days the days where you also pull a child into the kitchen to prep a part of the meal. Get them working on preparing foods they might normally reject as a way to help them start exploring foods they’d been blocked about in the past.
But the kids eat so early, we hear you say?
Push their meal time out by half an hour and get other things done first that you might have been doing after dinner up until now.
Family mealtime really can do wonders for health and wellbeing and we can’t wait to see how this focus affects your family.
Enjoy this wonderful interview between Brenda and Dr Leila Masson
We explore what conditions and issues are presenting in Leila's paediatric clinic the most often, and Leila offers tips for parents to create a healthier environment for their child at home as well as improving their lifestyle, to allow our kids the best chance to thrive. It's a "get a notepad" situation, there are some big nuggets in here. Enjoy!
MEAL PLAN #2
And the recipes (nb. these are the same booklets that we shared with you in Lesson 1!)
See you in the group to discuss and answer questions
Alexx & Brenda x
© Thrive 2020
Disclaimer: This eCourse contains the educated opinions of the authors and does not substitute for medical advice from your health care professional. It is your responsibility to consult your medical provider before making any changes to your diet. The author, therefore, assumes no responsibility for the decisions you take based upon the information contained in this eCourse.
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