For those of you who are raising children, what messages are you giving them about mealtimes which include when, what, where and how much to eat? “7 tips to make every family meal count” by Cara Rosenbloom (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/2/19, E24) has some basic ideas for cohering and educating your family. I’m blogging on this subject because I fear that some dysregulated eaters don’t know the value of sharing structured meals and what they can teach children about our relationship with food.
Clients tell me that because they are stressed out, they feel overly taxed by food shopping and preparing. So they order take out, go out to dinner, or let their children grab whatever is in the refrigerator. All of the above is acceptable once in a while, but what does it teach your children if it’s a regular pattern? It says that food is incidental or even irrelevant to a healthy life and that if it’s a bother to feed yourself well, you needn’t put in the effort.
Another pattern I hear is that rather than sit around a table, clients allow the family to watch TV during meals. This is unhealthy on so many levels. First, kids aren’t focusing on food and are mostly disconnected from their bodies watching TV. Second, there’s no meaningful group conversation about their lives (and yours). Third, there’s no sense of family cohesion that says we are a group and, though we sometimes function individually, we enjoy spending time as a special unit together.
Here are Rosenbloom’s tips for family eating:
- Share at least two family meals a week. I’d say that the number differs depending on the age of your children, but two sounds low to me.
- If you can’t get the entire family together, two people is fine. It’s sharing time together that counts.
- A weekend breakfast or brunch is a fine substitute for family dinnertime.
- It’s okay to have a mix of prepared food and home-cooked fare. The goal is not to aim for nutritional perfection, but to include lots of healthy food choices.
- Don’t be the maid. Depending on their ages, teach your children to shop, cook and clean up with you. Then it becomes “our” meal.
- Keep conversation positive to “catch up and enjoy one another’s company.” Mealtimes are not the time for criticism, chastisement, or divisive debates.
- Keep the TV off and, I’d add, don’t allow electronic devices when at the table.
The above isn’t a checklist. It’s a guideline for better eating for you and your family.