Dustin Bogan, MSPAS, PA-C

Ready or not, Fall has arrived and the holiday season is just around the corner. Christmas decorations have appeared on store shelves and preparation for Thanksgiving has begun. Thanksgiving allows the first opportunity for togetherness with loved ones, be that immediate family or a group of close friends. Many people look forward to the fellowship offered by the season and, of course, indulging on our favorite foods. This meal in particular is definitely special, but what about the other 1,094 meals throughout the year?

Mealtime is a valuable opportunity to improve the health and happiness for everyone involved.  Many newspapers and professional journals have raved about the benefits of family meals. Research has proven both physical and emotional benefits to spending this time together on a regular basis.

Growing up, breakfast was always a hectic time of the day in our house. I woke up, my grandfather had already finished his breakfast and was now sipping coffee in preparation for work and my grandmother walked from room to room nibbling on toast or a biscuit, undoubtedly on her second or third load of laundry. I would pour a bowl of cereal or eat something previously prepared. Lunch would take place at school or on the go on weekends.  Dinner on the other hand was always consistent.  My grandfather returned home around 4:30 just as I had hopped off of the bus from school. We would occupy our time while we waited for dinner, or supper, depending on which one of us you asked. Sitting at that table offered an opportunity to share daily failures and successes. We developed or fed our relationships and learned from one another.

Having meals together has repeatedly been proven to decrease the risk of childhood obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression, anxiety, and so much more. These are some of the most common health issues in our country today, and they could be prevented simply by taking the time to have a meal together a few times per week? The answer is yes. As one of my patients or families, you most likely have heard me say that the best way children learn is by following the example of others around them. Children learn from the environment in which they are placed. If parents prepare and choose healthy options for dinner, a child develops a healthier eating pattern that follows them the rest of their lives. When a child watches their mother or father sample a new vegetable or dish altogether, they become more adventurous eaters themselves. As new colors, textures, and flavors are presented on the plate, the child eventually becomes familiar enough to incorporate them into their own diet.

Repeatedly having meals as a family increases trust, emotional awareness, and nurtures a lasting bond among those gathered around the table. Children may eventually become open to discussing personal challenges and will share accomplishments. Healthier child-parent relationships are literally one meal away. Research continues to support the value of a strong support system. We know that this can decrease stress, prevent experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and literally improves their mood. Does mealtime not present an opportunity to develop a support system? Planning meals naturally increases structure within the home, which is helpful in many of our most common mood and neurological disorders. Open communication fosters productivity and creativity. Children may develop stronger organizational skills, improved motivation, and the structure will foster completed homework assignments. A child’s sleep pattern can be adjusted by limiting sleep-hindering food additives like caffeine, preservatives, and sugar.

The holiday season is an incredible opportunity to gather as a family and of course foster family traditions, but we can also incorporate some of those things into our weekly routine. Work, school, and sports schedules can definitely be hectic, but almost everyone can incorporate some form of a stable meal routine throughout the week. The benefits are countless and the rewards of a family meal can be noticed almost immediately. Best wishes, and best dishes this holiday season!

For help planning your meals together or for more information, feel free to check out the resources below:

Tips for Preventing Food Hassles 

Mealtime Routines and Tips

The Most Important Thing You Can Do With Your Kids: Eat Dinner With Them