The benefits of family meals

The benefits of family meals

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The benefits of family meals

Find out how you can improve your family's communication, nutrition and health just by sitting down to eat together.

As a child, I distinctly remember dinnertime with my entire family. After helping my mother prep the meal, my sister, brother and I would each sit in our own chairs at the table and debrief with our parents about our day. Although we sometimes moaned about setting the table, helping prepare the food or loading the dishwasher, the 30-to-40-minute ritual of sitting down together each night over food brought our family together as one.

The lost art of the family meal
When I fast-forward as a nutritionist to today's world, I hear from numerous families who have lost the art of the family meal. From a fast-paced life to after-school programs to an increase in time spent watching television, there are myriad reasons why people feel too tired or too busy for the family dinner to occur. In terms of television viewing and computer time, the amount of hours children are spending on these activities has risen dramatically and is taking a toll on the way we eat.

Consider the following:
- At age one, children watch an average of 2.2 hours daily. At age three it rises to an average of 3.6 hours daily. That's an increase of 63 per cent.

- 43 per cent of children under the age of two watch TV every day and 26 per cent have TVs in their bedroom.

- The average Canadian child watches 15.5 hours of TV each week and spends an additional five hours per week playing video games and surfing the Internet.

- By high school graduation, the average teen will have spent more time watching television than in the classroom, according to the Canadian Pediatric Society.

Turn off the TV and computer
Unfortunately, when meals are not prepared at home or are eaten in front of a television or computer screen, fast food and processed or packaged foods such as pizza pockets, white macaroni and cheese or hot dogs are typically turned to. With the dramatic rise in childhood obesity rates, this is indeed an area that must be considered.

With any health changes, you do not have to change everything at once. Simply taking baby steps toward health for the entire family can make a huge difference. Keep in mind children are also great mimickers and have “monkey see, monkey do” learning behaviour. If Mom and Dad set a good example by eating healthy food and sitting down to eat with the television off, children and even teenagers will quickly follow suit and enjoy. 

5 steps to bring your family back to the table
To start creating a healthy mealtime environment in your family, simply take the following five baby steps toward health:

1. Grocery shop and prepare.
Every Sunday, visit your grocery store and purchase all the healthy items you need for the week such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and pastas, eggs, milk, lean meat, low-fat cheeses and healthy snacks (e.g., nuts, seeds, baked nachos, dips, salsa, etc.). Preparing your food for the week—making egg salad, cutting up vegetables, making a soup or stew or a fruit salad -- will help decrease mealtime preparation. 

2. Get your kids involved.
Mealtime is a family affair that should involve every member. From grocery shopping to setting the table and clearing, everyone should have a job that is made fun.

3. Have a family game.
For example, each night, every family member gets to give their "high" from the day. In other words, each member will share the best event they feel took place in the day.

4. Invite your children to have their friends over to family mealtime.

5. Pick theme nights.
For example, if your kids love tacos, they will look forward to every Thursday night as “healthy taco night.” 

As a mother of an active 20-month-old, I realize life is busy! Even though the pace can be hectic for all of us, some things are just worth making the time for. When I think back and daydream of days gone by in my younger years, coming together as a family and laughing and sharing at our kitchen table are some of my fondest memories. In a nutshell, a family that breaks bread together…stays together!

Do you have family meals in your home? How do you get everyone to the table? Share your tips and tricks with fellow readers in our comment section below.

Dr. Joey Shulman is author of Winning the Food Fight and national bestseller The Natural Makeover Diet. For more information visit



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The benefits of family meals