Family Dinner: Nutrition and Nurturing (cont.)

Most families are coping with long workdays, after-school activities, and otherwise hectic lifestyles. Too often, family meals are the first thing to get squeezed out of the schedule.

Don't think that dining together has to be a throwback to days of June Cleaver. Family meals don't have to be fancy; they can be made up of easy dishes that you enjoy together a few times a week. Family meals are really about uninterrupted time together, when phones go unanswered, the television is turned off, and the conversation flows.

Here are some tips to help you turn the dream of relaxed family meals into a reality:

  • Establish a minimum number of family meals per week that suits your lifestyle. Start slowly, and build up to a number that works with everyone's schedule.
  • Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand so that preparation is easy and less time-consuming. Be sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep it simple. Family meals don't need to be elaborate, just balanced, with plenty of healthful ingredients. Make meals that appeal to everyone in the family.
  • Get the family involved in preparing meals and setting the table. If your children don't learn basic kitchen skills, they'll regret it by the time they're off to college.
  • Cook a big pot of something delicious during the weekend for easy meal prep on busy weekdays. Or try a crock-pot dish that you put together before leaving for work in the morning, and come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal.
  • Picking up take-out, ordering pizza, or going out to eat still counts as a family meal. Even when you don't cook at home, take uninterrupted time to eat and enjoy one another's company.
  • Make mealtime enjoyable so children will treasure the ritual. Leave the serious discussions and disciplinary action for some other time. Family meals are for healthy nourishment, comfort, and support.
  • Share the family ritual with friends and extended family members. Kids love to eat dinner at their friend's homes, and often discover new foods that way.
  • Be flexible. Toddlers and young children have a tough time sitting still and will only last a short time at the family meal.
  • Play soothing music, put flowers on the table, or light a candle to create a relaxing environment.

Originally published April 14, 2005.
Medically updated June 4, 2008.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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