|||||||About the Author|
Rachel Cook has been a Product Development Specialist at Great Kids® since 2017. Her passion for helping strengthen families is prevalent in her curriculum content creation. Before joining Great Kids, she worked as a home visitor with Kentucky HANDS. She lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband and new baby, where she loves writing and exploring nature. Contact Rachel at email@example.com.
March is finally here! If you’re like me, you’re eager for this month to arrive. I’m happy to welcome longer days, warmer weather, and a brand-new season. One of the ways my family celebrates the budding trees and blooming flowers is by firing up the grill. You can often find us stacking shish kabobs with colorful peppers, slices of sweet onion, and juicy chunks of pineapple. As my family awaits the sunshine and chirping birds, we’re feeling extra excited to invite our newest member into our backyard traditions this year. Soon our little one will be exploring solid foods, which means we have lots of laughs ahead as we watch them smash sweet fruit between their fingers and smear mushy vegetables across their face. We’re about to begin a whole new feeding journey with our kiddo, and we look forward to creating so many memories along the way.
Thinking back to my home visiting days, it seems that lots of parents shared in my same joy. They were also eager to invite their babies to have messy fun as they learned to navigate new and exciting foods. In addition to their joyful feelings, parents often had questions about healthy eating. You probably receive various questions from parents regarding nutrition as well. Since culture impacts the foods we enjoy, answering these questions probably looks different for each family.2 After pouring through nutrition research, I found that there is one way ALL families can incorporate more healthy foods in their diets.
It can be challenging in today’s busy world, but finding time to enjoy meals together can support children to eat more nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.1,5 Family meals can lead to numerous other payoffs as well! 4 This blog would turn into more of a book if I listed all the benefits of family mealtimes, but I thought I could share just a few of them for fun.
Nutrition experts say that family meals can support children to:
- Maintain a healthy weight,4
- Develop a broader vocabulary,3
- Grow stronger reading skills,3 and
- Make good decisions when faced with peer pressure as they grow older.3
In addition to these findings, making shared mealtimes a part of a family’s routines or traditions can also help kids develop feelings of belonging and security.3 When I read this research, I paused. My brain rerouted me to one of my fondest childhood memories. There I was, darting out of my sleeping bag, racing into the warmth of my grandmother’s hug. Before me sat a table decorated with breakfast food. Every Sunday started with sharing a family meal prepared by my grandmother. I will always be thankful for this tradition. Having breakfast as a family was more than an opportunity to fill my belly. It was a way to start my day feeling safe, secure, and loved.
As I venture into my new parenting role, I hope my kiddo will soon find our kitchen table to be a place of comfort. My wish is for them to leave the table with a full belly but an even fuller heart. It would be pretty great if they asked for seconds of their fruits and veggies too! However, I’ll just focus on heavily sprinkling all their meals with lots of love for now and see where this new feeding journey takes us. With time, I believe it will lead to my little one developing a love for nutritious foods and a special family tradition.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2020, 27 August). How to get your child to eat more fruits and veggies. Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/How-to-Get-Your-Child-to-Eat-More-Fruits-and-Veggies.aspx
2. Dao, M. C., Thiron, S., Messer, E., Sergeant, C., Sévigné, A., Huart, C., Rossi, M., Silvermann, I., Sakaida, K., Lessen, P. B., Sarrat, C., Archiniegas, L., Das, S. K., Gausserès, N., Clément, K., & Roberts, S. B. (2020). Cultural influences on the regulation of energy intake and obesity: A qualitative study comparing food customs and attitudes to eating in adults from France and the United States. Nutrients, 13(1). doi: 10.3390/nu13010063
3. Fruh, S. M., Fulkerson, J. A., Mulekar, M. S., Kendrick, L. A. J., & Clanton, C. (2011). The surprising benefits of the family meal. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 7(1), 18-22. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2010.04.017
4. Hillesund, E. R., Sagedal, L. R., Bere, E., & Øverby, N. C. (2021). Family meal participation is associated with dietary intake among 12-month-olds in southern Norway. BMC Pediatrics, 21, 1-12. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12887-021-02591-6
5. Leavitt, N. (Host). (2018, December 17). The power of a family meal. [Audio podcast episode]. In Harvard Chan: This week in health. Harvard Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/multimedia-article/family-meals-healthy-eating/