Family meal tips from TOPS

With busy schedules full of work, sports and other activities, it can be difficult to get the family together for a meal.  TOPS Club (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), a nonprofit, weight loss support organization, provides ideas to make time for family meals and reap the rewards.

Enjoy the benefits

According to Martha Marino and Sue Butkus of Washington State University and The Nutrition Education Network of Washington, there are many benefits of eating together.

• Family dinners promote healthy eating habits and are an ideal opportunity for parents to teach their children about nutrition and demonstrate healthy practices. Kids who regularly eat with their families tend to consume more fruits and vegetables rather than junk food.  Parents can also broaden their children’s horizons and introduce new foods during family meals.

• Time together can open the lines of communication between parents and children and help form stronger, healthier relationships. Family members have a chance to share details about their day, plan, learn about one another, and more. Table talk also allows children to express ideas and learn new vocabulary from adults’ conversations.

• Studies show that eating together can contribute to higher academic performance and improved well-being. The stability of family meals and conversation are essential for kids as they develop and learn.

• Food dollars can go further with large, homemade meals, rather than fast food or individual dishes. Cooking one meal and preparing food in advance also saves time in the kitchen.

Put it on the calendar

The calendar fills up quickly, especially as kids get older. It’s important to make family time a priority and set a schedule that will work for everyone. If there is only one day that works for each person, make it a weekly habit and work up to two or three times each week, if you can. Breakfast and lunch count as meals, so don’t limit family time to dinner.

Prepare meals ahead

To avoid falling into the common excuse that everyone’s schedule is too hectic, make meals ahead of time. Weekends are a great opportunity to compile a shopping list, purchase groceries, and prepare weekday meals. If you have extra time, cook double servings and put the extra food in the freezer, to be used as a backup for busy nights.

Get the children involved

It’s important to engage the kids and have them participate. Give them the opportunity to provide input on what is served or assign tasks – setting the table, washing the produce, pouring beverages, and mixing ingredients. Teenagers could even cook one of the meals.

Make it fun

Want to make meals more interesting?  There are many creative ideas that can keep family time exciting.

• Move it outdoors and have a picnic.

• Turn off the television, cell phones and the computer and have a conversation. Go around the table and talk about the highs and lows of everyone’s day and ask each other questions.

• Plan a theme for different meals – fiesta, dinner and a movie, fondue party, build your own burger or pizza, “favorites meal” (making each family member’s preferred dish) and more.

• Take turns planning the meals.  One night Mom or Dad can arrange dinner and the kids can prepare breakfast another day. This will get everyone involved with meal planning and it will give family members an opportunity to be creative.

• Dress up the dinner table, making the occasion seem special.  Use candles, table clothes, fancy dishes, or props for a themed dinner.


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