What if we told you there was a magic bullet for all of these childhood issues?
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Preventing childhood obesity
- Doing homework
- Getting better grades
- Loving to read
- Saying no to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana
- Not engaging in early sexual activity
- Preventing eating disorders
- Lowering the risk of depression
- Just being a happier kid
There sure is, and it's simple. My prescription for a stealth inside-and-out kid makeover:
“Just eat seven family meals together around a table each week.”
Don't stop reading! It is totally doable, and the benefits come without even trying. Here are the three keys to successful deployment:
I said “meals,” not dinners. Dinners may work for your family, but for mine the easiest to coordinate, hands down, is breakfast. We start the day together, before practices, rehearsals, games, or school can get in the way. And our lingering Saturday and Sunday brunches are a highlight of our weekend.
I said “table,” as in “not around a TV.” The more children eat in front of a television, the more likely they are to get too many of their calories from pizza, salty snacks, fatty meats, and soda—and the less likely they are to get them from fruits and vegetables.
It's never too early to start. Even with babies, get in the habit of pulling the high chair up to your dinner table and sharing some of the same food. I want to see this as a new tradition: Baby's first meal is a family meal, not a solo event.
Even without giving extra effort or conscious thought, family meals are associated with better nutrition, better weight, better health, better behavior, better school performance, and happier children—and parents, too. If family meals were a drug or an educational toy, they'd be a blockbuster!
It makes total sense. We tend to spontaneously choose a bit better together; the benefits compound. And we connect more deeply when we slow down around food. The more data I see, the more convinced I become: One of the easiest, best things we can do for our kids is to share meals with them, around a table, in a home—especially meals they had a hand in preparing and cleaning up. Bon appétit!