Making Family Meals Better Together: Tips from the Experts.

As you know, eating together is what we’re all about here at Better Together. What can we say? We just love maintaining a steady flow of conversation about things like new recipes, dinner conversation starters and how to deal with those oh-so-common picky eaters. Yet, we know, it can be a challenge to make family meals a seamless experience. So for this blog, we tracked down some of BC’s best-known nutritionists, to share their tips on keeping meals simple and enjoyable. Enjoy this wealth of great advice from some seriously dialed in meal makers…

First we spoke with Linda Watts, registered dietitian and food and nutrition columnist for the Vancouver Courier community newspaper. If you’re not familiar, Linda’s known for covering stories on everything related to children, nutrition, and food trends.

Linda's advice to parents? Don’t become short-order cooks.

Linda explains, “It’s important to avoid catering to each family member’s food preferences. It’s impossible to please every eater every time. Instead, aim to provide each person with something they generally enjoy at each meal. Then family members can pick and choose from what is on the table.”

A great tip for those of us who feel exhausted by catering to too many requests in one meal!

Linda adds that it’s also important to not be too stringent. “Make sure to include the occasional treat at meals and snacks. All family members need to learn how to balance high-fat, high-sugar, relatively low-nutrient foods such as sweets and chips. Research has shown that children who are allowed access to these foods are more apt to develop a healthier relationship with them." 

Good advice.

Next we reached Jane Wark, Public Health Dietitian for the Tri-Cities. Jane says the best approach for a fun meal is to bring everyone in the family together in the meal-prep process as often as possible.

Explains Jane, “It’s really important to teach your kids to cook!  Knowing how to cook is an important life skill that children need to learn. One idea that I love is to let your kids choose one of their favourite dinners and then get everyone involved in cooking it together. Or doing things like baking cookies together.”

This is so true because when kids are involved in making a meal, they are usually more interested in eating that meal, too.

Jane warns parents that one of the biggest culprits to a good meal is over-snacking. “It’s important to limit snacks to twice a day, and don't give snacks within two hours of a meal. When kids come to the table hungry they are more likely to eat better!”   

Thanks Jane!

Finally, we tracked down Flo Sheppard, Population Health Dietitian, for Northern Health. Flo’s advice to parents is to keep family meals simple so that they do happen often.

Flo explains, “People assume family meals have to be dinner. But a family meal can actually be breakfast, or even sitting down for a snack. Quality family mealtime doesn’t need to mean a full array with a cooked chicken, vegetables, etc. One of our favorite meals in my home is the oatmeal buffet. I’ll cook oatmeal, and put out little containers of things like raisins, apricots, cranberries, nuts, peanut butter, milk, whatever extra little things are in my cabinet…. coconut, fresh fruit, yogurt, anything that’s hanging around! Kids love meals that they can build themselves at the table. The oatmeal buffet is one idea. You could also do tacos, fajitas, build your own sandwich.. the list goes on!”

We love the buffet idea.

And if you’re forgetting why all these family meals are so worth your time, Flo offers this reminder: “Family meals can solve a lot of problems at the core of children—around eating competence, food acceptance, attitudes toward eating, and management of eating. Family mealtime is what helps kids become good eaters. A lot happens in the context of the family meals. When meals are regular, people know when they need to eat, and parents know what their kids are eating. This means nutritional advantages, along with other documented benefits like language development among preschoolers, and what I call the “big stuff” with teens [regular family meals are associated with lower instances of teens taking on risky behaviours].”

We couldn’t agree more! Indeed sometimes we wonder what problems can’t be solved by sitting down to share a meal together!  What do you do to keep family meals happening in your home. What are your tips? Join the conversation here.  

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