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Dear Debi,
I often work late & sometimes it's hard to get the whole family together for dinner. How important is it for us to spend mealtimes together?
Daniel Barrera
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
Host
Family Meals:
  • Encourage children's sense of belonging
  • Promote more nutritious diets
  • Improve chances of success in school
  • Decrease probability of risky behavior as teenagers
Expert Advice
Miriam Weinstein
Miriam Weinstein
Author
Family meals encourage a children's sense of belonging because they make it clear to children who the family unit is. They provide consistency and give kids something they can count on day after day.

Children who have regular family meals are less likely to be overweight because when families eat together, children are given the opportunity to see what adults eat as well as how much they eat, or portions. There's also a better chance that children will eat more nutritiously when they eat as a family because there's less temptation to feed them "kids food," which many times can include foods that aren't the healthiest, such as processed foods.

Kids are more likely to do better in school and less likely to engage in risky behavior as teenagers when they have regular family meals. Doing better in school stems from language development and building vocabulary. When we sit as a family we tend to talk to each other--about our day, and other stories. Vocabulary is being built by learning to tell these stories; in fact, this builds vocabulary even faster than being read to.

Engaging in risky behavior as teenagers is less likely because it's helpful for them to know that there's going to be a set time when they're going to see their parents, siblings, etc. Family meals give their life structure. There doesn't have to be "special" time or occasion for family meals; they can become a consistent part of the regular family routine.

It's important for kids to understand that they're part of the family enterprise or team, so kids of all ages can be included - even babies. Depending on the ages of the kids, they can get involved in the family meal at different levels. If they're old enough, kids can help prepare the meals. It's a real job that kids can actually do - they're perfectly able to wash veggies, cut with a dull knife, etc. Plus, if a child has helped prepare the food, he's much more likely to eat it. They can also help with setting up as well as with clean-up.
Child Care Provider Comments
Aimee Gutierrez
Aimee Gutierrez
Mother of three
No matter how busy you are, it's important to make time for family meals. It's just a natural thing for me. My mom always made time for us to have family meals. The family has to eat and because time is of the essence, I sometimes make enough food for two nights so that we can have leftovers the next day. While I'm cooking, my husband takes advantage of the time to play with the kids. It's a great balance. My kids even get involved by helping set the table or cleaning up.
Janis Sanders
Janis Sanders
Grandmother of four
It's very important to eat together because that is unity time for the family. It's your special time together. Food just opens people up so they can let their guard down. Sitting down together encourages the younger kids to eat all of their food. If they see you enjoying food like spinach, they will be open to trying it too. Meal time is a great time to model good behavior. This is the only time that everyone won't be watching TV and they can just focus on communicating with each other.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
Kids need to know there's a time and place where you sit down and eat, whether it's for breakfast or lunch or even a snack. Sitting down and eating together helps kids slow down and enjoy the meal, but it also gives them a sense of belonging with one another.

Placemats Featured Activity:
Placemats
Family Meals Featured Video:
Family Meals
Topic: Health & Safety
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