|The kid's love loading up school lunch trays and sitting at the kid's table where there is just as much laughter as eating.|
|Our crazy, yet tasty potluck: salmon, chicken, tomato-basil panzanella, sourdough, apples, bean and pasta salad, fried green tomatoes, roasted potatoes, spaghetti squash and apple cobbler.|
What makes this happy, yet chaotic meal not just important but essential to relationships as well as health? Here's are few of the benefits we can't afford to pass up that came together on this Wednesday night meal that can be applied to your family:
- Eat together as a family. As a nuclear family we eat dinner together 5-6 nights per week, and as extended family, 1-2 times per week (Sunday dinner is a big family tradition). This not only keeps everyone connected and aware of each other, it helps children especially see beyond themselves and think of other people for a while. I love being able to eat with multiple generations so that my kids can benefit from the completely different perspective and experiences that grandparents or older family members provide. Numerous studies provide evidence that eating together as a family not only strengthens the family unit, but children do better socially and academically as well. If you don't live near extended family, invite some friends and neighbors over occasionally for similar benefits.
- Eating together provides better health and teaches healthy habits. Again, there is a large amount of research that supports the idea that the benefits of eating together extend beyond the social to the physical as well. Lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and associated health problems, plus healthier life-long habits make eating together essential.
- Cooking. My son helped his grandfather prep and cook the fish, a nephew contributed a pasta salad, another nephew requested cut up apples, and although it may have been a rather eclectic, potluck menu, everyone shared in the prep and the finished product was a delicious, nourishing, from-scratch masterpiece.
- Variety. With everyone contributing their own recipes, there was an abundance of flavors and textures. It's a little easier for kids to want to try new foods when there is a fun, light-hearted environment with others trying foods for the first time as well. Watching others try new foods helps kids feel more comfortable trying new foods themselves. Plus, let's face it - life is too short to be limited to the same 10 dinner choices over and over.
- Time. Eating with family, especially extended family teaches that spending time with family and spending time eating is a priority and a healthy habit. It wasn't grabbed on the run at a drive-thru, or inhaled in the car on the way to some practice or mindlessly consumed in front of the TV. Slower, social eating leads to a healthier weight, and a healthier relationship with food.
You may not live close to family, or have a large family of your own, but don't let that stop you. Include roommates, neighbors, coworkers and friends over regularly for a shared meal and you'll reap similar benefits. Our dinners may not have the ambience of a quiet table in an upscale restaurant, but I'll take this any day.