Eating together – the recipe for health and happiness?

We know it can be a tough task to get everyone round the table to eat – parents working longer hours, kids with more exams and busier social lives than ever. Not to mention less-than-enthusiastic reactions, and on top of that you’re trying to get them eating nutritionally! So is it worth persevering to get them sitting down together?

For behaviour analyst Judi James, from Nutrition and Fitness, the answer is a resounding yes! The results can impact both family feeling and finances.

“Eating together as a family is an important psychological ritual that echoes the hunt/kill/eat rituals of our ancestors,” she explains. “Although food is now in constant supply, it’s useful to maintain a ritual that was created when it was rare, as the feeling of celebration and team-work can have a therapeutic and bonding effect on the family unit.”

Beyond the balanced family diet you put on the table, Judi spells out the social and psychological benefits:

  • Team family – The social interaction reinforces the sense of your family as a team and is one of the best family bonding rituals, reducing stress and tension both in and outside the home. It makes everyone feel safer – reminding us of the underlying affections and structure lying beneath any friction
  • Family face time –  For what might be the only time during the day, we get a chance to read one another’s faces and feelings, this is really healthy, the undivided attention increases family understanding
  • Delegating chores – Preparing and consumption of food as a household task is valued even by children! Getting them involved in meal preparation is the easiest way to grow kids sense of responsibility and encourage them to see the results of their efforts

Plus there are wider benefits:

  • Family finances – Not only will it bond you, but reducing the amount that you’re spending on snacks and ready meals and focussing on family meals means, you can save cash for a family treat
  • Mind your manners – Family meals are an opportunity for children to develop social skills for outside the home too. “Sitting down to eat gives parents a chance to provide and enforce some basic etiquette guidelines,” explains Judi. “Although social manners seem dated, it’s still vital that children learn how to eat and behave at table in a way that will teach them how to respect other cultural and social behaviours outside the home.”
  • Tackling family nutrition – Some cite the decline in family meals as a factor in rising childhood obesity, as kids not sitting down to eat a balanced family meal are more likely to be grab unhealthy fast foods and snacks
  • Improve school grades –According to a report by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, “There is a strong relationship between regularity of having a family evening meal and GCSE attainment.”

So, with a tough year looming for many families, could now be a good time to reintroduce your family to preparing and eating meals together when you can?

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