April 01, 2008
Family mealtimes: are they fun times?
By Julie Harker Buck
(LDS Life, April 2008)
Imagine the table that held your family meals as you were growing up. Was it round or square? Did you eat at a counter or sofa instead? Memories surrounding mealtimes stir up strong feelings, both positive and negative. Let's explore some sound reasons to start having family mealtimes, improve upon the mealtimes we are having and to encourage healthy eating habits during mealtimes.
Mealtimes can be hasty exercises in getting family fed or one of the richest times of the family's day. Which describes the type of mealtimes at your house? President Gordon B. Hinckley has said "mealtime provides a wonderful time to review the activities of the day and to not only feed the body, but to feed the spirit as well". How well are we "feeding" the spirit of our family members during mealtimes? "Provide a pleasant, positive eating environment, and allow enough time to eat " at least 15-20 minutes of actual eating time after being served. (Reference: "What time is lunch?" Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1996:96.)
Parents are the first and most influential teacher of nutrition and health to their children. When discussing nutrition concepts or showing by example, children learn daily about our food preferences. By utilizing a CARE mealtime policy, we can learn strategies to improve our time together. C: Consider children's needs; A: Analyze your situation; R: Respond with the best practice; E: Evaluate the outcome.
Consider children's needs
Children are responsible to decide how much to eat and whether to eat. In most situations, children can recognize and respond appropriately to their hunger cues. These messages, from their brain and stomach, guide their eating so that they are able to start when hungry and stop when full. As teenagers and adults we may override our bodies' messages regarding fullness "satiety" and hunger. By choosing a variety of foods that are appropriate for each stage of a child's life, children can thrive in a healthy food environment. "Healthy eating patterns include eating a variety of foods, having regular meals and snacks, responding to body signals of hunger and fullness, creating a positive environment for meals, and eating family meals together when
possible. Healthy eating also means taking time to relax, enjoy the food, and feel satiety." (Reference: E. Satter, "How to get your kid to eat but not too much," 1987, Palo Alto, CA: Bull Publishers).
Analyze your situation
Consider your budget, time and knowledge about food and nutrition. Have you planned meals to take advantage of food in storage, in season and on sale? Is some free time better used by preparing large quantities of food and freezing some meals for later use? Is the cost of eating out worth the extra calories and loss opportunity to eat around your own table? Would a class about meal preparation or time spent with a knowledgeable friend/neighbor be helpful and welcome by your family? Can someone else in your household help with meal preparation? Prayerfully consider your options and establish some new or improved plans for mealtimes.
Respond with the best practice
Where, when and what should you eat? As adults, we are responsible to decide what to purchase for dinner, when to prepare the meal and where to eat it. Consider a suitable table that can seat everyone comfortably. Allow for dishes and utensils to properly fit the hands of those eating the meal, ie. Child-sized utensils and dishes when needed. How is the lighting? Is the area free from distractions such as television, radio or toys so that discussion can occur? Have you let go of practices that have no nutrition basis such as "clean the plate club", using food as a reward or punishment and forcing children to eat? By respecting each other's innate ability to know how much to eat or whether, we can encourage a healthy eating environment. "When we learn to listen to these signals, we can take better care of ourselves. There are many signals, such as hunger and fullness, being cold or tired, feeling the need to move our body, etc." (Reference: "The ABC's of Health-Focused Well-Being," www.uwyo.edu/winwyoming/projects.html).
Evaluate the outcome
Occasionally review how changes are being received, standard practices are working and new ideas are becoming accepted. As parents or care providers discuss strategies to include older children and teens in meal planning, preparation and clean up. Yes, dishes! By encouraging meal planning, cooking and clean up, we better prepare future missionaries, mothers, fathers, roommates, and family to share in the rewarding mealtime atmosphere.
For additional reading: "Secrets for feeding a healthy family," by Ellyn Satter, www.EllynSatter.com.
For additional resources: "Winning conversation cards at WIN the Family," Wellness IN the Rockies, www.uwyo.edu/wintherockies
Article written by Julie Harker Buck, MHE, RD, CD, LCCE . Registered Dietitian, Certified DONA doula, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator. Mother of six. Adjunct Faculty member in the Department for Home and Family Education at Brigham Young University- Idaho.