Nyman: Make family meals a priority

August is Family Meals Month and for many parents, it may be much easier to forget about family meals altogether. Overscheduled lives can lead to being constantly on-the-go and feeling the need to eat on the run.

While family dinners can be seen as a burdensome chore at the end of a tiring day, more American families are realizing that the benefits of time together cannot be measured by calories alone.

Enjoying shared meals offers a unique opportunity to teach children valuable lessons and positively impact their health. Milk, cheese and yogurt pack a nutritional punch and are easy foods to add to your family meal.

Why should you eat family meals together?

Many families are starved for time to spend together, and dinner may be their only time to reconnect, leave behind individual pursuits and really be present.

Dinner is a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to gain crucial knowledge and skills on nutrition and the importance of healthy meals.

What are the benefits of increasing family meals?

Family meals at home are simply more nutritious. A Harvard study found that families who eat together are twice as likely to get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables as families that don’t share mealtimes. Also, kids who eat family meals tend to consume a wider variety of foods, making them less picky eaters.

Dairy foods contain nine essential nutrients and are easily incorporated into breakfast, lunch and dinner meals. Grating and sprinkling a new flavor of cheese over vegetables or stirring yogurt into a fruit dip are simple ways kids can learn to love new foods. At the same time, it can help them reach the goal of three servings of dairy every day.

How To Do It

Make family meals a priority in the household. Focus more on being together than on making an elaborate meal. Start with small steps, such as increasing the number of family meals by one meal each week.

Plan the weekly menu and make a grocery list so everyone is involved in the plan. Encourage kids to make suggestions, help prepare food or set the table.

Pouring milk into a measuring cup, discussing why cheese melts on a casserole, tasting different yogurt textures, or explaining that milk is a local food can help build skills and knowledge. Plus, they’re great ways to get kids excited about dairy.

Last, but not least, turn off all devices including TV, tablets and phones, and enjoy time as a family. It’s worth a try, as sharing more meals together could mean large rewards for the family.

Do you have a question about dairy foods or farms? Send it to us at cowversations@stldairycouncil.org. Every week, we answer a new question on our Facebook page – STLDairyCouncil — and give away a limited edition “cowversation” T-shirt. Join the cowversation by sending in your question today!

Monica Nyman is a senior nutrition educator for the St. Louis District Dairy Council. Get dairy-rich recipes or additional information about the council at www.stldairycouncil.org.


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