As the new school year begins, we leave behind the lazy days of summer and take on the hustle and bustle of fall activities. Homework, fall sports and school functions can mean less family time spent together and more on-the-go meals. Avoid letting family time go by the wayside and embrace this new beginning as an opportunity to establish or sustain healthy habits - like the family meal!
Research shows that a traditional family meal provides many positive benefits. Children who eat regular family meals are healthier, happier and perform better in school. They are more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables, try new foods and less likely to be overweight. This is important since statistics show nearly one in five children ages 6-19 are overweight, which can lead to serious health problems in the future. And because childhood is when many important health habits are formed, it's important to make family meal time a priority.
Here are some tips to get started:
- Aim to have at least 2-3 meals together each week, which doesn't necessarily mean dinner. Breakfast and lunch are also an option.
- Start with a healthy appetizer. Fresh cut fruits and vegetables, nuts and low-fat cheese are good items to have on hand for kids to snack on rather than chips, candy or other unhealthy snacks.
- Make it a family affair. Kids enjoy being involved, so make it a learning experience. Explain the health benefits of fruits and vegetables and have them help wash the produce and set the table.
- Serve something simple. Don't spend a lot of time planning and preparing an elaborate meal. The focus should be on your family and eating a healthy meal together.
To learn more about how to help your family be healthy, you can visit the family section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website. The USDA's new MyPlate tool can also provide information on healthy meal planning and preparation.