Family Meals – Friend or Foe?

I recently learned that September is National Family Meals Month.

I don’t know about you but when I think about family meals, I have two different reactions – a personal reaction and a professional one. Let’s start with the latter.

Professional me is stoked!

I know the research behind the incredible benefits of family meals:

  • Better academic performance
  • Improved mental health and self-esteem
  • Reduced risk of dieting behaviors and development of eating disorders
  • Greater resilience
  • Reduced risk of teen pregnancy and substance use
  • Improved markers for physical health

If I were asked to choose one nutrition-related habit for families to build, it would be more family meals together.

connection matters more than nutrients during family meals

AND…we all know that family meals are not always easy and, in fact, are sometimes downright stressful. This is where real life Marci comes in. And, of course, I bring real life Marci into these conversations with my clients.

Here are just a handful of reasons that family meals can be difficult:

  • Working long hours that leave little time or energy for food preparation and planning
  • Hectic family schedules with everyone headed a million directions right around meal time
  • Kids complaining about, throwing, or simply not eating the food you’ve made (Last night my son scooped up his chicken and rice, rubbed it in his hair then dropped it on the floor.)
  • Diet culture that provides us with all sorts of ideas and a huge serving of guilt about what we should be eating and feeding our kids.
  • Limited resources. Let’s not forget that many families do not have adequate resources to prepare and sit down to eat balanced family meals.
  • You live alone and cooking for yourself is unappealing

I am going to share with you my top three suggestions that have helped me embrace the mayhem of family meals. Then I’m going to provide you with a handful of my very favorite resources on this topic.

Top three suggestions to embrace family meals:

  1. The connection matters more than the nutrients. I promise you that if eating together is about connecting and sharing rather than stressing and pressuring, this will have the greatest and most positive impact for everyone.
  2. Be flexible about “what counts.” A weeknight staple in my home is frozen pizza and bagged salad from Trader Joes with a side of fruit. There is zero prep, little clean up, and everyone’s bellies get full.
  3. Avoid two things at the dinner table as much as possible: educating on nutrition and pressuring to eat. Believe it or not, the harder you pressure your children to eat their carrots “because it tastes really good and the vitamins are good for your eyes!!!”, the harder they will push back.

My favorite resources for family meals:

  • How to Protect Your Children from Food and Body Shame” – this is one of the most popular blog posts I have written. You’ll find 15 tips to nourishing your family well.
  • Virginia Sole-Smith writes extensively about nutrition, diet culture, and feeding children. I HIGHLY recommend reading everything she writes as well as her podcast.
  • Feeding Littles is a feeding therapist/dietitian tag team that have you covered on every topic related to….feeding littles! Check out their Instagram for hilarious videos and accessible tips.
  • Responsive Feeding is your place to go if you have a child who is picky (a nicer term this is often used is selective). The training I have received from Katja Rowell and Grace Wong have transformed my clinical practice and personal life since becoming a parent.
  • The book, Kindred Table, written by Registered Dietitian Emily Weeks is my favorite resource that blends together intuitive eating, meal planning, and eating as a family.
  • Wendy Jo Peterson, Registered Dietitian and author, recently launched her newest book Meal Prep for Dummies. Wendy Jo is a genius when it comes to working smart in the kitchen and bringing joy to family time around the table.
  • Crystal Karges is both a Registered Dietitian and coach for parents. Her blog is PACKED with practical and valuable advice for feeding yourself and your family. I have learned so much from Crystal over the years so definitely head over to her blog, you’ll feel supported immediately.

I hope this helps you and your family enjoy more meals together during National Family Meals Month and beyond.

So often, we live our lives in our minds, totally disconnected from our bodies. I invite you to connect to uncomfortable feelings and sensations. You know, the stuff we usually stray from the most! Download this meditation, Connecting to the Wisdom of the Body. Take time to practice to listen in and respond to the information our body is sending us.