Now that school is starting again, I have pulled out my calendar to schedule our families’ activities for the year. With two working parents and two middle-schoolers, I see the potential for family meals to fall off the radar.
As a physician who talks a lot about nutrition, one of the biggest barriers that patients face is not having time to prepare healthy meals. They don’t regularly sit down together for family meals. There’s a warning that goes: those who have no time for healthy eating sooner or later make time for illness. Healthy eating and togetherness should not be considered optional.
Families that eat together tend to be healthier. Research shows that children who have regular meals with their parents do better in every way: from better grades to healthier relationships to staying out of trouble. Young adults are 42 percent less likely to drink, 50 percent less likely to smoke, and 66 percent less likely to smoke marijuana. Family dinners reduce the incidence of childhood obesity, and tend to protect girls from bulimia, anorexia, and diet pills. In a study on the effect of household routines on American preschoolers found that the risk of obesity in kids as young as four is lower if they regularly eat family dinners, get enough sleep, and don’t watch TV on weekdays.
Did you know that Americans spend more time watching cooking on the Food Network than actually preparing their own meals? In a survey of 112,000 Americans, the average person spends 1 hour or less on fitness and food preparation daily. In fact, the average meal preparation time was 27 minutes or less each day. In comparison, it typically takes me about an hour a day to prepare simple, wholesome meals for my family. I see this as one of the best time investments I can make.
I often see tips for 5-minute meals – speedy and convenient. This way of thinking has led us down the wrong path. Eating healthy and eating together is not about fast and easy. To the contrary, it’s time to slow down so we can prepare and enjoy healthy meals together. Eating dinner together nourishes our lives in so very many ways.
Tips for making time for a healthy family dinner:
- Make a commitment to prepare healthy whole foods and have meals together.
- Schedule planning, shopping, and food preparation, then schedule time to sit down and enjoy your meal together.
- Before shopping, create a weekly menu so you can plan your shopping and preparation.
- Prep and cook ahead of time, whenever possible. Cut up and cook vegetables – not only is meal preparation easier, but the cooked vegetables take up less space and have a longer shelf life in your fridge.
- Make double batches, then eat one meal and freeze the other for those times when your schedule is tight.
- Enlist the whole family in menu planning, prep and clean up. These are great skills for kids to learn together while you will pass on your values.
- Fight the pressure to over-schedule. Saying No actually makes life easier.
For more about family dinners ; check out The Family Dinner by Laurie David.