Family Mealtime: A Tasty Base for Healthy Youth Development

Between work, running errands, and after-school activities, meals on the go have become a staple for many American families. You may not realize taking those few extra moments to sit down for a meal with your family fills more than just your stomach.

Sitting down for a family meal is one of the easiest proven methods to enrich your young person’s life. Psychologically, regular family mealtimes help youth do better in school on tests, and homework and improve general intellectual development. Social benefits include better social adjustment, especially for teenagers, and stronger family bonds.

Family meal times also have nutritional benefits. Having regular balanced meals featuring nutritious foods helps your young person develop healthy eating habits and establish a healthy relationship with food.

Convenience is a significant factor when choosing what to eat, leaving many families choosing the instant gratification of fast food. You may cringe at thinking of the time spent planning and preparing a family meal, but you can change your mindset. Don’t make it a chore; make it an experience.

Everyone’s schedule is different, so make these mealtimes work for you. Keeping them quick by meal planning or having an easy-to-make recipe is the most time-efficient. Remember you don’t have to have family meals every night; work around your family’s schedule. Even just one or two meals a week can make a lasting impact. If a full meal doesn’t fit into the schedule, consider stopping to enjoy a snack with the young person in your life.

Involving your whole family in meal preparation can reduce time spent “working” while maximizing bonding time. Have a family member set the table while you make the main course. Ask others to pour drinks or clean up the table. This spreads the chores out and allows you to spend time together. Encouraging the whole family to invest in the meal makes it more enjoyable and less time-consuming.

Family meals also provide invaluable, quality family time. The goal is to have undivided attention between family members, and technology distractions can make that hard to accomplish. Making mealtimes tech-free will also give you more time for focused family interactions. Talk about your day, family memories, possible vacations or fun questions that can involve everyone.

For more information on developing healthy young people, contact your local County Cooperative Extension Service.

Source: Heather Norman-Burgdolf, UK extension specialist in food and nutrition