Alice Smith

August is Family Meals Month and families who have made the effort to schedule meals when most or all members can be present have experienced many following benefits. Mealtime conversations let family members share the daily happenings in their lives and get to know more about each other. Mealtime also can be an opportunity to plan family activities and discuss family needs.

Every family has strengths. Eating together increases each family member’s sense of belonging and provides a setting for discussions that can reinforce values that are important to the family. Regular family meals create a routine that helps children feel more secure. Stronger bonds make it easier to deal with problems that arise.

Eating together offers an opportunity to practice social skills, including table manners and conversation, as well as basic food preparation skills. A more balanced nutritious meal is likely to be prepared when all or most of the family eats together. Shared meals also can save money.

Tempt your family back to the table by making eating together a priority! Yes, families are busy, but even busy families must eat. The benefits of sharing meals and conversation outweigh scheduling difficulties. You can be creative and flexible about when and where you eat. Family meals can be shared at home, at a restaurant, in a park, on the farm or near the playing field. Simply eat with your children whenever possible, even if it isn’t every day.

Make mealtime pleasant by eliminating distractions by turning off the television and radio. Practice making positive comments, taking turns talking, and listening without interruption. Postpone negative conversations until another time. If children ask why manners matter, remind them that good manners are a way of showing respect for others. Practicing at home builds confidence for social situations away from home.

Serve a variety of foods by consider both family preferences and MyPlate when planning meals. Try to include a variety of foods daily. Many children need encouragement to try new foods. A small bite may be all they want the first time they taste something unfamiliar.

Keep meals simple and easy Enjoying a simple meal together creates long-lasting memories. Consider using a crockery cooker for a soup- or stew-based meal that can be ready to eat when the family is. Look for recipes, like lasagna, that can be doubled; put the second pan in the freezer for a later meal. Involve everyone by giving each person a task for each meal helps family members learn how to put a meal together. It also lets them practice lifetime skills in teamwork and cooperation.

If all this sounds two overwhelming, think simple. A shared family meal doesn’t have to be a roast turkey feast. A family meal can be take-out food, such as pizza, plus celery sticks, apples, and milk. The important thing is eating together and sharing conversation. Depending on the age of children, involve them in the meal planning and preparation. From setting tables to preparing the entrée there is a job for everyone.

If your family schedules are so busy there’s seems to be no time to eat together, remember children do better when they have a routine to their lives; and that includes mealtime. Explore ways individual schedules can be adjusted to allow mealtime together. Consider limiting the number of activities that family members participate in. Children who often eat dinner with their families are more likely to do well in school, be emotionally content, and have positive peer relationships. They are also less likely to have friends who drink alcohol and use marijuana, have lower levels of stress and be bored less often, and be at lower risk for thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.

With the start of a new school year, and the upcoming change of seasons, it is a great time to resolve to work toward sharing a family meal nearly every day. To get you started a good meal this time of year might include your favorite burgers cooked on the grill and accompanied by sweet corn or a veggie pouch cooked on the grill with potatoes, onions, and squash. You might even grill peach halves while you eat so you can cook the entire meal outdoors.

To grill peaches, place a peach half on a sheet of foil and fill the pit with a combination of brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Wrap and place on a warm grill for 15 minutes.