Have you noticed September brings about a shift in scheduling?
Parents, your kids are back in school and possibly involved in evening activities. Kid-free households, you’re still busy, but the days are noticeably shorter. If your household is anything like mine, 7 p.m. seems to sneak up quickly. And there I am, scratching my head wondering if pizza for the third night in a row is really setting the health example I’d hoped for as a mother. I’m well aware it’s not, but the reality is, bedtime is in one hour and I need a meal plan.
Meal planning can be an effective way to save money, increase fruit and vegetable consumption and reduce stress associated with lack of time for home-cooked meals. However, when it’s mid-week and you don’t have a plan, direct your focus to another positive health behavior, which may be easier to control, even at 7 p.m.
A meta-analysis from the journal Pediatrics found when families shared five or more meals together over the course of a week, their children were 25% less likely to encounter nutritional health concerns. The specific concerns addressed were obesity, disordered eating and unhealthy eating.
Aside from the nutritional benefits, other studies have noted psychological benefits. In one meta-analysis, children and adolescents who engaged in family meals, roughly 33% to 61% of the time, had reduced incidence of substance abuse, depression, suicidal ideation and violent behavior. These same youths had improved body image (females only), self-esteem and academic performance.
Parents, and for those of you in a kid-free household, guess what? Meals with social engagement benefit you, too – with improved relationships, happiness, community engagement and life satisfaction, to name a few.
Managing a schedule for one can be challenging. Coordinating the schedules for everyone in a household can make it seem almost impossible to plan a family meal. Remember, it need not be every meal. Aim for five meals a week shared as a family, or with friends. You may find that a breakfast date is easier to schedule than dinner, it’s still a meal. More strategies for a successful family/social meal include:
Learn how to prepare healthy meals quickly. The Colorado State University Extension Office is offering a workshop Sept. 24 about how to use an Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Register at https://bit.ly/2md1OKV.Pre-select five (or more) meals to be together at the beginning of the week, based on that week’s schedule. Create an e-free environment – e as in electronics, including phones. Put them out of sight to be out of mind.Connect through conversation. Allow each person to share their “rose (what went well), thorn (not so well) and leaf (what was learned)” from the day. (I credit learning this tip during a meal shared with friends. Thanks, Sarah and Mike.) “Table” negative emotions; they have the potential to encourage disordered eating.Model healthy eating, force nothing.Start and finish the meal together. Leave the table only when the last person finishes eating.Compliment one another. Recognizing specific strengths exhibited by another person builds trust and family relations.Share the work of the entire meal process. Plan, prep, cook and clean together as much as possible. Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6465.Nicole Clark