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The Family That Eats Together Stays Together

05/21/2013 05:23 EDT | Updated 07/21/2013 05:12 EDT
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Families that eat together, stay together. How often do you enjoy family meals at your home? With long commutes and kids' activities, it's easy to see why eating together can take a back seat.

At our house, we usually eat breakfast together. Given my flexible work schedule, the kids and I sit down for dinner, and my husband joins in depending on when he gets home. When the kids' soccer starts in the spring, we will likely have a smaller dinner and enjoy a post-soccer snack.

So why are family meals important? The benefits go beyond health.

1. Family bonding -- Family meals foster a sense of security and comfort in children. Research also shows that kids, especially teenagers, are less likely to get into trouble and experiment with drugs if they eat regularly with their family.

2.Communication -- Mealtimes are great to catch up about everyone's day and nurture kids' language skills. I hear about what's going on at school and we discuss our schedule for the week. Every so often, I throw in something new to chat about e.g. "if you had three wishes, what would they be?" or "if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?" Google "family dinner conversation starters" for ideas.

3. Healthier eating habits -- Children and teens eat more balanced meals when they eat with their family. As role models, what parents eat has a big influence on what their kids eat. Even if your kids aren't happily chomping away on vegetables, as long as they see you eat your veggies, that's a step in the right direction.

4. Time for learning -- Sharing meals helps children understand family and cultural traditions about food. As well, they learn teamwork and valuable life skills if they help with getting the meal on the table. Easy things for kids to do: set the table, and wash/spin/tear salad.

5. Better grades -- Research shows that children who eat regular family meals do better academically. Kids who go to school hungry, for example, can't learn as well.

(Source: Adapted from EatRight Ontario)

Keeping mealtimes stress free. If mealtimes are a battleground for your family, keep these three tips in mind to bring more zen to your meals.

Get your roles right.

Your job as a parent is to decide what foods to serve and when to serve it. Let your kids choose how much to eat, even if it means not eating a certain food. You could try the "try one bite" rule, but forcing kids to eat food sets up a negative relationship with that food. Sometimes it takes 15-20 exposures to a food before kids will try it. I cook one meal and they can choose to eat it or not.

Try not to turn meals into a power struggle. After all, this won't be their last meal ever. If they don't eat much at one meal, they will be hungry for the next meal. My kids are not big vegetable eaters, but I have to pretend that it doesn't bother me. Over time, I've noticed that my nine-year-old is getting more adventurous and trying new foods.

Keep weeknight meals simple.

Map out your meals for the upcoming week if you can. Cook and freeze meals, or do some prep work ahead of time. Use a slow cooker so that dinner is done by the time you get home. Or turn to breakfast for dinner options like eggs, pancakes (whole grain, of course!) and French toast. Last night's curry can be transformed into tonight's dinner wrap served with fruit and veggie sticks. Grilled cheese sandwiches are a favourite at our house.

No TV, gadgets, toys or phones during the meal.

Eating meals when you're distracted can lead to overeating because it's hard to be in tune with your hunger and satiety cues. It's also hard to have a conversation if everyone's checking their status online or texting.

Easy Family Dinner: Make Your Own Pizza

Choose your base, add your sauce, and set up bowls of toppings. Kids love making their own. No worries if they decide to eat a plain cheese pizza.

Base

Use whole grain naan, pita or tortilla.

Roll out your own whole grain pizza dough.

Want mini pizzas? Try whole grain English muffins.

Sauce

Tomato-based pizza sauce (optional: add a pinch of curry powder or garam masala)

Pesto

Olive oil

Butter chicken sauce

Toppings -- Be creative and use what's on hand. Use lots of vegetables and whatever cheese you wish.

Some toppings beyond the usual to whet your appetite:

Cauliflower

Chickpeas

Curry chicken

Grilled eggplant

Paneer

Pineapple

Shredded zucchini & carrots

Spinach

By Zannat Reza @food4happiness

Read more by Zannat Reza on Masalamommas.com:

5 Ways to Eat Better

7 Simple Ways to Cook Better

15 Easy Weeknight Dinners