In our technology driven and hectic world, meals are often eaten while on the go, in front of the TV or while on smart tablets and smartphones. Gone are the days of sitting down to the dinner table as a family and rehashing the day’s activities over a meal. Or are they?
March is National Nutrition Month and, this year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is encouraging families to ‘Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.’ According to the Academy, how, when, why and where we eat are just as important as what we eat. An overall healthy eating plan includes both what we eat and how we experience what we eat. Making sure to enjoy the sights, sounds, memories, and interactions associated with eating are essential to the development of a positive, long-term relationship with food.
“This year’s ‘Savor the Flavor of Eating Right’ theme is a great reminder for everyone to develop a mindful eating pattern that includes nutritious and flavorful foods, while also taking the time to enjoy everything that a healthful and tasty meal brings with it,” said registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy President Dr. Evelyn F. Crayton. For centuries, food as been a used as a way to connect family and friends. Only recently has the practice of mindless eating taken over the family dinner table.
I recently finished reading French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon in my quest to help my family become better eaters and to enjoy eating…rather than it being a battle Every.Single.Night. A few of the rules are right in line with what the Academy is trying to relay to families! According to the French, “Food is social. Eat family meals together at the table, with no distractions.” According to The Family Dinner Project, the benefits of eating a meal together include higher self-esteem, better academic performance, and decreased rates of substance abuse, depression, and eating disorders. Researchers also believe family dinners have the power to nourish ethical thinking.
If dinner time is near impossible to coordinate, try eating breakfast together instead! My husband works later than most so this has been a tough rule to implement, but we have made a conscious effort to turn off the tv, set our phones aside and put toys away before eating. This has definitely made for some more enjoyable and interactive mealtimes. And, I’ve already noticed that it isn’t taking our kids as long to eat their dinners! Whew…because the hourlong dinner festivities weren’t all that festive.
Another rule the French tend to follow that Americans do not is that parents are in charge of the children’s food education. Americans tend to pack our schedules full of activities that leave very little time to teach our children, “some of the most basic, important things they need to know, like the proper way to prepare, cook and eat healthy food.” The author goes on to make the analogy that “French parents think about healthy eating habits the way we think about toilet training, or reading.” My son and I participate in cooking classes at a local cooking studio once every few months, and he LOVES it! He gets to take the lead during the class and is so proud of himself with the outcome. Nowadays, he is my little sous chef and he is passing on his skills to his little sister. I’ve found that when he participates in making the meal, he is more likely to try it. He may not like it, but at least he tries it!
So, other than the two ‘rules’ mentioned above, how else can we make eating memorable?
- Involve your kids! Bring them to the local farmers market or grocery store to help pick out the vegetables, meats, etc they will be helping you prep. Allow them to participate in the kitchen. I’m definitely guilty of pushing my kids out of the kitchen just to get dinner made because it’s dinner time and none of the food is prepared. They want to be involved and, truth be told, it’s a great bonding experience.
- Head out to local food festivals. Check out your local calendars to get an idea of when and where these festivals are occurring. Exposing your kids to different types of food, music, and fun will make a lasting impression on them.
- Educate. Eatright.org has a wealth of information to help educate yourself and your family about food portions, healthy snacks for kids, breakfast options for families on the go, and more.
- Sign up for an online dinner program such as Food, Fun, and Conversation: 4 Weeks to Better Family Dinners. You’ll receive new recipes, conversation starters, and dinner activities to turn meal times into a positive experience.
- Make it fun! he more fun/special parents make meals, the more the kids will be eager to participate in them.
And most of all, don’t forget to ‘Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.’