Why this dietitian promotes family meals

All of my friends have grandchildren; many grandchildren. They love having their grandkids visit and spend time on the lake, but they all have one complaint. The kids have a hard time putting down their tablets or phones when it is time to eat. Many of my friends don’t want to set strict rules around mealtimes; after all, they aren’t the kid’s parents and they want them to have fun and enjoy their visit.

I’m going to argue that grandparents should apply some rules because mealtime is important enough to: (1) sit and together as a family, (2) have a no phone/tablet rule at the table, and (3) involve the kids in all aspects of getting the meal to the table.

September is National Family Meals Month™ (for more information and great resources see this website (http://www.fmi.org/family-meals-month/about) and eating family meals leads to life-long benefits for kids: better grades in school, improved self-esteem, and enhanced social behaviors. When I was a kid we ate dinner as a family every night at 5 PM (that seems so early now!) But, today, only 30% of American families eat dinner together every night. One of the goals of the national family meals movement is get to families to eat just one more meal together each week…not such a hard goal. Grandparents can support that goal by setting a family meal standard as part of the normal operating procedure when grandkids visit.

Sitting together…without distractions (that means turning off the television, too) can help kids be more social and engaged. One good strategy is to ask specific questions to engage everyone around the table. This summer when we had a lot of family visiting we developed some questions, such as:

  • Who is your favorite current singer or group?
  • What sport are you most looking forward to watching in the Olympics?
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Who knew that trampoline is an Olympic sport and that one adult loves Justin Bieber? You can learn a lot about family members around the table!

I’ve also learned that kids like to be involved in helping with the meal; sure, they may resist at first, but when given a specific task they respond. Whether setting the table, making the salad, or clearing dishes, small jobs can make a child an integral part of the meal. If you have the time and the interest, check Pinterest for fun food displays that kids may enjoy making. They can be easy (as seen here with my great niece, Ailey) or quite elaborate (check out the watermelon shark if you’ve not seen it on Pinterest!) And, I’ve found that kids are much more likely to eat what they have a hand in preparing…even healthy veggies!

Ailey's veggies

So, a call to grandparents to enjoy family meals this month, and every month!#FamilyMealsMonth