In the digital era, it can be increasingly difficult for parents to keep their children engaged and off their screens.
Nightly family dinners can be one of the best ways to engage with your kids and strengthen familial bonds. Cooking a quality meal each evening, and doing so with your family, will also ensure that you and your family members are maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet.
Eating Family Dinner Comes with Social Benefits
Dinner time offers a valuable opportunity to bring your loved ones together amidst busy schedules and ensure that you remain engaged in one another’s lives — especially your children’s.
“Sitting at the table is a social experience. It allows family members to bond and to stay involved in each other’s daily lives,” said Dr. Jane Gold, an internal medicine doctor with Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health. “It is a time to relax after work and school and share stories and insight, and to enjoy being present for each other. It also prepares youngsters for the social aspects of sharing a meal, how to hold a conversation, and how to have good manners while sharing a meal.”
Preparing a home-cooked dinner means you can control and monitor what is going in your kids’ bodies. Eating out typically means more processed food, fewer fruits & vegetables, and oversized portions. By cooking meals yourself, you can make sure that your kids are getting balanced nutrients that will help them to grow and develop strong immune systems.
Incorporating Healthy Foods Can Be Fun!
Eating healthy can be fun, even for picky eaters! Here are some options for incorporating vegetables into kid-friendly recipes:
- Add vegetables to a tried and true favorite, such as adding broccoli to tortellini
- Use a vegetable as topping on homemade pizza – a fresh pizza with sauce, cheese and spinach is a great option
- Use an air fryer to crisp vegetables and serve them in a different way – such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts or asparagus
- Serve them raw by cutting up a platter of carrots, cucumbers and peppers with salad dressing/salsa/or a tasty dip on the side
- Use pasta alternatives – like a delicious spaghetti squash with garlic, basil, and avocado
Involve Your Whole Family in Meal Preparation
One of the best ways to get your children and the entire family excited about a family dinner is to involve them in the process.
Start by reviewing their favorite meals and exploring online recipes in order to find new and exciting ways to integrate the foods they love. If grandma has a recipe that everyone loves, have her teach your kids how to prepare it — whether it’s over FaceTime, or in person.
Seize any opportunity to bring your children along to the grocery store, so that they can feel a part of the food selection. This will help them look forward to meal preparation.
Have your children set the table, and if they’re old enough, teach them how to get involved in the cooking itself. When it’s mealtime, don’t forget to celebrate everyone who played a role in providing the wonderful dinner!
Dealing with Dietary Restrictions Does Not Have to be a Challenge
Preparing meals for a family with a diverse array of dietary restrictions can be particularly challenging. Thankfully, Dr. Gold has an easy solution.
“Prepare the building blocks of the meal as separate items and allow those with different palates and dietary choices to put the meal together as they wish,” Gold said. “For example, make grilled chicken and rice–then you can add spaghetti sauce or salsa on the side for others to top their chicken with.”
It can also be a good idea to have a plain steamed vegetable or undressed salad available. These fresh fruits and vegetables are staples for any healthy diet and can serve as options for vegetarians or vegans in your family.
Make It Fun!
Remember to always make dinner time a collaborative and enjoyable experience. Provide your kids your undivided attention at the table, so they’ll look forward to family dinner every night!
If you’d like more creative ways to get your kids excited for family dinner, or you’d like to learn more about the many health benefits for you and your children, you can call Dr. Gold’s practice at 914-864-3910.
By Jane Gold, MD, Internal Medicine, Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health