Parents' Gift to Children: Family Meals

Parents' Gift to Children: Family Meals

I had the pleasure of interviewing the California State PTA President-elect Colleen You, mother of two and long- time PTA volunteer about the importance of family meals. Since the mission of the California State PTA is to positively impact the lives of all children and families, I was curious to learn Colleen’s perspective about family meals. She strongly believes that eating more family meals together has a broad range of benefits for children and their families.

Research has shown that families who eat together tend to eat better, with higher intakes of fruits, vegetables and key nutrients like calcium, fiber and iron. Perhaps lesser known are the benefits that family meals can have on students’ academic achievement. Well-nourished children tend to perform better in school with fewer tardies or absences.

Colleen defines a family meal as an “uninterrupted, dedicated time for household members to gather and eat an enjoyable and healthy meal.” The focus should be on each other with an absence of technology. According to Colleen, the benefits of family meals go way beyond what is eaten. Many activities related to preparing a meal for the family offer excellent opportunities for parents to interact with children. She offered the following specific examples.

  • Planning menus for the week gets kids thinking and planning into the future – which is a higher level thinking skill.
  • Creating the shopping list and then shopping together allows the parent the opportunity to teach simple math skills and how to shop for value in the grocery store.
  • Setting the table gets children thinking about the mechanics of eating a meal; how many forks do I need so everyone has a fork? Do we need spoons with this meal?

Family mealtime can be used as an educational experience both at home and in the classroom. In particular, Colleen remembers helping at school during a lesson where children learning English were taught how to set the table. The lesson included not only vocabulary but also shapes and patterns in the table setup. Additionally, family meals that include foods from all the food groups can reinforce healthy eating concepts taught in the classroom, especially if educators utilize the nutrition education programs available from the Dairy Council of California.

The other key benefit of family meals is the “therapeutic benefit,” Colleen said. “The research is clear—teens who have more family meals exhibit less risky behavior such as smoking and drug use.” Even though schedules get very hectic as kids get older, planning to have family meals whenever possible helps teens realize their important role in the family. And the dialogue at the meal helps kids stay connected with their parents and offers a chance to communicate what the family values.

Colleen acknowledges that family schedules can become very busy; however there are many resources available to help plan simple meals. She suggests using creative planning in order to change an ordinary event into something special; such as planning a picnic to eat together before or after a child’s sporting event. Inviting other families to picnic with you can transform a family event into a community event that can create deeper friendships and lasting memories for families.


Balanced Nurition for Your Child