The importance of eating as a family
Written by Pam Brook
Did you know there are medically proven health benefits to eating with your family? Medical researchers have found that when a family eats together at least five times a week, the following benefits flow:
- Family meals help to improve children’s physical and mental wellbeing
- Meal time conversation helps boost children’s vocabulary
- Children eat a healthier diet with less junk food and more fruit and vegetables when they eat at the family table
- Children will have less screen time (as long as you have a screen time ban for all the family at the dinner table)
- Family mealtimes help children become more resilient as they listen to family stories and learn how family members talk through, manage and solve daily problems.
The family dinner table works best when it’s a welcoming place, where family get together, have time to connect and find out what each other are up to.
It’s also a place where babies and toddlers learn how to eat as a family - they learn by watching what you eat, how you eat it and most certainly pick up on your food choices.
A little tip... if the kids don’t eat everything on their plate, use some gentle encouragement but don’t make it a food battleground!
Many of my earliest memories are helping my mum in the kitchen. Podding the peas, picking the cumquats from under the tree to make jam (I was too small to even get to the first branches!), stirring the bowl, licking the spoon and just watching what was going on.
My children were the same.
Cooking doesn’t have to be perfect. We’ve had many failures including the amazing ginger cake I made with my son Will for his special grade 5 school project. Cakes were never my forte and it sunk on all four attempts! In the end, at 2am, I filled in the depression in the middle with a batch of icing to make it look good. The feedback from the classmates the next day was less than impressive, but I’m told the teachers liked it! Nevertheless, we still remember that day and laugh out loud every time we share the story - and that's what it's all about!
Children love to be part of the preparation process and it’s rare that they won’t eat something that they’ve had a part in creating. Cooking as a family helps create adventurous eaters, plus they get to see what real vegetables looks like - they may have helped peel or mash them, season or spice them.
My grandchildren now sit around me in the kitchen and we do the same things together. When children help cook, it starts with the simplest of tasks, like licking the bowl, licking the spoon, passing the veggies or peeling the banana. What’s important is that they feel part of the process, so a little reward and praise along the way is important. Forget perfect presentation, forget perfect attention to detail, just make it fun and delicious!
Marie-Josée Harbec, Linda S. Pagani. Associations Between Early Family Meal Environment Quality and Later Well-Being in School-Age Children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 2017; 1 DOI:10.1097/DBP.0000000000000520