Finding time to eat dinner as a family has a host of benefits that go far beyond nutrition. Kids who eat with their family do better in school and are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs or get into fights than those who are left to their own devices come dinnertime. But with two-career households and demanding schedules, who has the time? You do, if you remember some key rules.
1.Allow a Little Leeway
In addition to all its other benefits, “having dinner together is probably the single most important way to promote good health and nutrition,” says David Ludwig, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and author of Ending the Food Fight. But experts agree that the family meal doesn’t have to mean Mom, Dad and all the kids sitting in the dining room at six o’clock five nights a week, eating a made-from-scratch meal. Surprising new research from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health shows that even if the meal is served in front of the television, kids eat healthier than those who don’t dine with loved ones. Not that anyone advocates a blaring TV during dinner, but the study suggests it doesn’t make much of a difference: When a family dines together, they eat better. Even if the food comes in a sack, when it’s eaten at home, with others, it still counts. (Add salad, milk or healthy sides.) “Eating together, no matter what you eat, slows down the process, extending family time,” says Dr. Ludwig.
2.Commit to It
If a family dinner just won’t work, try breakfast or weekend brunches. The point is to create a routine and stick to it. If you miss a day, pick up where you left off.
3.Talk It Out
Share a meal with your children and they’ll share information about their lives. That’s what happened with the Macchi family of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. No matter how busy they are, Susan and Kevin try to eat dinner with their sons, ages 11 and 14, most nights, even if the food comes from a restaurant and even if just one parent can get there. “Without a lot of prodding, things just spill out,” Susan says. “I’ve learned so much more than when we didn’t have dinner together regularly.” To make sure the meal happens, she enlists the help of family members and the babysitter to get the food on the table.