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  • Jasmine Blake, MS, HHP

The Importance of the Family Meal

Why Eat Together as a Family


The importance of the family meal has more meaning than we think. Families are made to eat together as a whole, in addition to spending time with one another. However, the problem I always see is separation from the dinner table and poor food choices. Often family members are poor eaters and make terrible decisions when it comes to meal planning.


I agree with Richard Johnson in his 2013 article about the crucial aspect of the family meal. [3].He also writes about Michael Pollan in this article. [3]. He states that "Michael Pollan's interest in food writing was partly sparked by his son, Isaac, who used to be a terrible eater." [3]. He is right. In part, I think we have all been in these shoes, we all make terrible meal choices. I know for myself, my interest in nutrition comes from the same attributes. In addition to eating a family meal together, doing it daily influences our growth and development.


Children Learn from Eating with Parents and Friends


Eating family meals together is imperative to a child's emotional, behavioral, and physical development. Not only does eating at the table teach a child how to interact with family, but the act itself builds physiological and cognitive skills. Such growth includes feeding skills and the ability for toddler children to control their energy intake. [1].


Eating with family also teaches toddlers and children social skills like feeding behaviors. It also teaches them how to communicate while they are transitioning to school when around other students. As well, eating with others that aren't family members is when they are most vulnerable at the eating table. So keeping them at the table during meals helps them to understand how to make decisions about food preference and negotiate media influence. [1].


What are the Long-Term Impacts?


The long-term health impacts of regular family meals for kids are positive. One positive aspect is that children receive a wider variety of nutrients when eating a planned meal. Since iron is the most common deficiency, it is even better if that planned meal has abundant sources of this nutrient. Also, eating regular meals that are nutritious help strengthen areas of the body.


Healthy meals at the table also help lower the risk of dental caries, digestive issues, such as constipation, lowering elevated blood levels, and reducing obesity. [1].  Cook and Dunifon (2012) write that eating at the family table even, "lowers levels of depressive symptoms," and "family meals have a significant beneficial effect on child mental health, substance use, and delinquency." [2]. Therefore, eating at the table is not only necessary but has significant benefits in the long run.


Specific goals for families to work towards when it comes to mealtime are learning the act of eating together themselves. Children mirror the behaviors of the adults around them. Therefore, adults should be cautious of their actions. Richard Johnson (2013) mentions in his article, "He won't be serving it on trays in front of the television because sitting around a table is so important." [3]. Meaning that if Michael Pollans' son were to see him eating off of trays, he would most likely do the same. So, if we learn to make family meals count, then so will our children. I also agree with Richard Johnson when determining the importance of a family meal. We should make each meal meaningful, do our best to make it happen, and be loyal to doing it. In like, I also saw changes in my son when I finally decided to make the cooking in the kitchen valuable. [3].


Time Management


Some potential social implications of implementing the family meal daily can be linked to time management. Adults seem to have complications in daily task management and scheduling, which leaves children to eat in front of the TV. These negligent behaviors allow marketing and media influence to have a significant impact on our children. They begin to perceive foods in a different manner and start to make poor food choices. Time management makes it difficult for families to initiate family meals. Nonetheless, some time is better than no time. Even small amounts of time can make all the difference in how children can view meal importance.


My experiences of family meals as a child were not experienced as often as they should have been. I often feel that time was not on my family's side. However holidays were planned accordingly, and we pretty much got to eat with one another on these occasions. I often wished that eating with all of my family was constant, but this was not the case. It was pretty simple, "Here is a tv dinner and go watch this show."


My nightly dinners consisted of pizza from Hungry Howies, and we ate this at least two times a week. Also, we had pasta type on the stovetop mixed meat casserole at least once a week. We also always had Nepollian ice cream in the freezer. TV dinners were a treat for me, and sprite was kept in the refrigerator as a reward. I can say that we hardly ate together, and never did we all eat at a table. Honestly, I didn't ever think eating had any significance, nevertheless importance.


Conclusion


Separation from family members during meals leads to a lack of behavioral, emotional, and physical development. Eating junk meals that are not planned and random, influences children that family meals are not necessary. Experiencing eating at the table helps children make better food choices like eating healthier meals. Plus, eating healthier meals allows for more nutrients into the body and helps prevents disease. Children ultimately mirror the behaviors of their parents, so making meals count is essential for learning social skills. Even if parents feel like they don't have time to eat with their children, they should try and use any amount of time to be with them.

References

  1. Brown, J. E. (2016). Nutrition through the life cycle (6th Ed). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

  2. Cook, E. & Dunifon, R. (2012). Parenting In Context. Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference? [PDF file].  Cornell University. College of Human Ecology. Department of Policy Analysis and Management. Retrieved from https://www.human.cornell.edu/sites/default/files/PAM/Parenting/Family-Mealtimes-2.pdf (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

  3. Johnson, R. (2013, May 24). Michael pollan: Why the family meal is crucial to civilisation. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/may/25/michael-pollan-family-meal-civilisation (Links to an external site.)

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