September is officially Family Meals Month, and as a busy, single mom with a full-time career, managing mealtime is not always a simple task. Easy isn’t always healthy, and healthy isn’t always appetizing to young, discerning palates. But while I rarely please everyone when it comes to dinner, I do try to take advantage of that time to spend some quality time with my sons.
Studies have shown that youth who eat with their families on a regular basis are more likely to develop a sense of community and better relationships. In fact, a 2013 study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence indicates that adolescents who frequently ate with their families were less likely to engage in risk behaviors such as underage drinking, smoking, or aggressive and violent behavior, among others.
There are lots of suggestions online for finding ways to get your family to sit down together when you have a busy schedule. A quick survey of top Google hits for “Family Meal Time” includes everything from making the dining room a no-phone-zone to offering up conversation starters, but for my family, meal time starts in the kitchen.
Involving my two boys, who are now 8- and 12-years-old, in meal planning and preparation builds essential life skills in the art of cooking — not only in knowing how to prepare and cook different types of food, but I’ve also seen them learning time management, patience, and pride in creating something that we all enjoy together.
Along with learning how to wash and chop, they are learning how to follow directions, food safety procedures, and it has even helped in understanding fractions and measurements. I’ve also found they’re even more willing to try new foods because they’re so involved with the preparation steps.
Although it’s usually messy and requires slightly more time, supervision, and cleanup than a dinner I prepare myself, bringing my kids into the kitchen makes family mealtime easy. They’re excited to sit together at the table and talk about what they made, about what they do and don’t like about the meal we cooked together, and what they’d like to try next. Those conversations lead us into talking about school, work, friends, extracurricular activities, and we’re rarely at a loss for words during these dinners.
Our sister blog Eat Smart, run by the University of Maryland Extension Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) program, offers lots of advice for involving kids in the kitchen and provides age-appropriate activities for children to help with. Check out their blog, “Start The Year Off With Kids in the Kitchen,” for more tips on getting your kids engaged in mealtime prep.