Nutrition

The importance of family dinners

Photography by Michael Alberstat, Styling by Andrea Karr Image by: Photography by Michael Alberstat, Styling by Andrea Karr Author: Canadian Living

Nutrition

The importance of family dinners

Weeknights can be a blur for busy families. Between commuting, homework, sports and other extracurricular activities, it can be hard to sit down for a healthy dinner, let alone prep for one. That said, there's a compelling case to be made for sitting down together for a meal. Here's why you should:

Dinnertime is family time

When you dine with your loved ones, you're doing more than just refueling. It's an opportunity to regroup and reconnect, says Danielle Eveleigh, a Toronto mother of sons aged eight, 10 and 12. The Eveleighs dine together at least five nights per week.

"As the boys get older, I'm glad we do, because it really is the time I find out what's going on in their lives. I think it helps with our relationships," she says.

Nutritional benefits
Family dinners help kids develop into savvy adult eaters. According to Sarah Woodruff, associate professor at the University of Windsor's Faculty of Human Kinetics, family dinners "provide a venue for learning and teaching healthy food behaviours." Research shows additional nutritional benefits, including:

• Higher daily diet quality (more fruits and vegetables)
• Less meal skipping
• Higher self-confidence in making healthy eating choices

Finally, kids who report higher kitchen-confidence tend to come from families that eat dinner together often. "Being able to cook—or at least feeling comfortable in the kitchen—provides children and adolescents a head start," says Woodruff.

It's a habit that can be passed down from generation to generation. "Growing up, we always had dinner together at the table," says Eveleigh.

Time-management tips
Coordinating meals isn't always easy, but it's achievable with some advance planning. Here are some tips:

1. Lighten your load
"We made a conscious decision to cut down on extracurricular activities during the week. We hated coming home from work, rushing to have dinner, running out the door and still trying to get homework done," says Eveleigh, whose sons' organized weeknight activities are limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays.

2. Don't be a short-order cook

Offering multiple options to picky eaters can eat up extra time. So barring any actual food allergies or intolerances, avoid it. "We have diverse dinners with no choices: one meal for everyone," says Eveleigh.

3. Pre-cook to save time
"When we buy chicken I poach it, shred it and put it in the freezer," says Eveleigh. "It defrosts quickly and can be used in so many dishes: pasta, stir-fry, salad, and tacos.".

Other shortcuts: do big-batch weekend cooking; use frozen veggies so that no washing or cutting are required; use a slow cooker and come home to a hot, homemade dinner.

4. Finally, delegate
Make your kids do the cooking one night per week! It's educational and deliciously empowering.

For more healthy eating tips, check out how to make healthy food together.

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Nutrition

The importance of family dinners

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