September is “National Family Meals Month” which reminds us how important togetherness is when it comes to food. There’s a whole month dedicated to encouraging this routine, folks! These 30 days, more than any other, beckons us to turn the steering wheel away from that fast food drive-thru, put down the phone, shut off the TV (yes even though “This is Us” is back) , and head on into our home kitchen for some grub with the fam.
- Social Connection: Gathering around the table can form and secure special bonds that many children don’t get outside the home. As time management expert Laura Vanderkam reassures us: “people are a good use of time”. In fact, it’s reported that our “family connections” increase 25% with 3+ family meals shared a week, 39% with 5+ meals, and a whopping 50% with 7+ meals (Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health 2013). This connection increases self-esteem, a sense of wellbeing, positive social behaviors, and stronger family relationships.
- Better Food Quality: Family meals often mean cooking at home which translates to getting groceries rather than restaurant food which translates to probably better nutrition. Often times restaurant menus pack in excess sodium, undesirable fats, and added sugar which doesn’t give our diets much of a lift. In fact, those who “frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories” per the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Furthermore, families who share 3+ meals together a week see a 24% increase in healthy food consumption, namely fruits and vegetables, as well as fiber and calcium-rich foods (Pediatrics 2011). Fall may also be sport season (or marching band season… anyone?) and time to put good fuel in children’s’ tanks for charging through practices and games. Here are some easy and healthy themed dinners for busy nights:
- Taco Tuesday: soft tortillas (OptUP score: 90) + black beans + pico de gallo + shredded lettuce + low-fat or dairy-free sour cream + low-fat or dairy-free cheese shreds + cilantro
- Pizza Friday: whole wheat pizza crust + pizza sauce + low-fat or dairy-free cheese shreds + meatless crumbles (OptUP score: 76) + mushrooms + pico de gallo + basil
- Breakfast for Dinner: pancakes (OptUP score: 84) + strawberries + slivered almonds + light pancake syrup + eggs or egg-free scramble
- Building Good Habits Early: Children are malleable and although it may be unbeknownst to you, they are watching your every move… But all eeriness aside, children model the behaviors of adults whom they spend large chunks of time with like their parents, siblings, and caregivers. Therefore, setting firm expectations like a positive atmosphere, healthy food, mindfulness, and being in community of others could establish a standard that kids continue to do for years to come. Habits in our younger years highly predict how we conduct ourselves into adulthood and not only what we eat, but how we eat, can pave the way for a generation of healthier behaviors.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.