Whether it’s with your actual family or your closest group of friends, the benefits of having family dinners are many.
Toronto-based registered dietitian Bracha Kopstick of BeeKay Nutrition says families who eat together have more nutritious diets and enjoy a greater variety of foods.
Family dinners are a great opportunity to initiate crucial conversation time with teenagers, and according to the Family Dinner Project, the benefits range from better academic performance and higher self-esteem to lower rates of obesity, a lower likelihood of developing eating disorders and a greater sense of resilience.
According to Britain’s Mental Health Foundation, regular mealtimes can help give us a sense of rhythm and structure in our lives and sharing meals helps children develop social skills and give us an opportunity to feel connected to others.
And the benefits of eating in groups even extend to your “work family.”
In a recent piece for The Globe and Mail, Dr. Karyn Gordon writes about the adverse effects of eating lunch alone in the workplace – and why companies should consider implementing strategies to get staff members to eat together regularly.
One study even claims that eating in groups makes food taste better.
To make family meals happen more often, Kopstick says convenience is key.
“The great thing about family meals is that they don’t require specific food. So you can have takeout and still get the benefits of eating together,” she says. “Buy prechopped veggies – I especially encourage having frozen vegetables on hand, because then you don’t have to worry about spoilage.”
Janet Gianetti, co-founder at Mr. Meal Delivery, says for those of us who are super busy, a meal-kit delivery service can help keep family dinners part of our routine.
“Having prepared ingredients and recipes that only require mixing and heating saves hours of shopping, planning and prep time,” she says. “Having some help with two to three meals out of the week makes cooking other nights of the week more pleasurable and buys everyone a little extra time.”
John Ordover, author of Lie There And Lose Weight: How I Lost 100 Pounds by Doing Next to Nothing, recommends menu choices that put the assembly and cooking in the hands of your guests.
“A simple example is a taco bar,” he says. “Shopping and prepping the ingredients is quick and simple, and if there is someone who isn’t eating tacos, you can put out lettuce or cabbage leaves or just a bowl for a taco salad. Or [you can] do a burrito bar, where people can roll the ingredients up and pop them in the microwave.”
And when it’s grilling season, he says, “you can do basically the same thing with meat and chicken and fish or an assortment of veggies and then toss them on the grill.”
If you want to keep it really simple, Ordover says a sandwich bar is a great choice, and if you’re feeling more ambitious, Korean- or Mongolian-style cooking with a selection of grilled meats and veggies is a fun choice.
Kopstick also recommends participation, especially if kids are part of your family.
“Get everyone involved! Make sure everyone knows a family meal will be happening so there are no surprises, and get them to help plan the menu and prepare the food,” she says. “Kids are more likely to try food they’ve helped prepare.”