...but what if the benefits are much bigger than that?
Perhaps there are also significant social and family benefits associated with a lifestyle based on REAL food.
The good news is family meal time is increasing…but challenges still remain, especially with our many distractions. You may remember when it was completely acceptable for dinnertime to be focused around TV — frozen TV dinners, TV trays (do our kids even know what these are?!) and “quality time” was enjoying dinner while watching the latest episode of Family Ties (are we showing our age now or what?!).
Now, we have advanced from TV dinners to a broad universe of “convenience foods,” making it easy for everyone to grab something different, eating as quickly as possible before moving on to the next important activity — all while watching TV, texting or distracted with some other electronic device. All this means we are potentially missing an opportunity to gather around the table, build relationships, share experiences and learn from each other.
So, what does this have to do with REAL food?
Thanksgiving every day?!
When we invest time, effort and care to prepare a meal using REAL food, chances are beneficial interactions will increase! Think about Thanksgiving. This is a favorite holiday for many people.
Because there is thought and care put into the meal and we get to enjoy it with close family and friends. We realize Thanksgiving doesn’t always include the healthiest foods, but all that aside, think of the memories we have from sharing these meals!
What if we could recreate this “feeling” every day?
Of course, we don’t have time to cook a turkey and create elaborate meals every day; however, elaborate meals aren’t needed. Meals can be simple and quick…if we put even a little effort into preparing meals with REAL ingredients, it increases the chance the meal will be an opportunity to bond with our family and friends, instead of everyone just doing their own thing.
What a great chance to teach our children about REAL food!
- Lessons for life. Teaching kids about food, nutrition, and cooking really is a life skill, just like learning to ride a bike.
- Be mindful. Showing our kids the importance of being thoughtful about what we eat can make a huge impact in their lives.
- Keep it simple. Imagine the difference of preparing a simple meal using fresh green beans instead of simply heating up a can of green beans. It doesn’t have to be a complicated or time-consuming recipe, and it's a great way to teach kids how to use fresh ingredients and how much better they taste.
Try this! The next time you are at the store, ask your kids (or your spouse) to go get some green beans (or another type of produce). Will they head to the produce section for fresh green beans or will they head straight to the canned green bean section?! We know we’re really on the right track if they ask, “don’t you get those at the farmer’s market?"
We have all heard the statistics and read the studies that show children who have regular meals with their families get better grades, have better eating habits, are less likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and have better emotional and social well-being. That’s quite a list!
Obviously, these are benefits we all want our children to have, and enjoying meals together is also simply a great way to stay connected. And, REAL food meals may increase the likelihood of these interactions. In our family, some of our best conversations seem to take place while preparing and eating meals. This is when we hear great stories and details about their day and what they are excited or anxious about.
- Try for at least 3-4 times per week when you can all sit down together for dinner. (We know, when you have kids, realistically, life can be crazy busy, which is why we aim for a minimum of 3 nights per week!)
- Enjoy REAL food meals every night, which is where the slow cooker and quick and easy meals come in handy. (A great conversation starter for the dinner table is "what were your highs and lows today?"...you may be surprised by the answers you get!)
- Have kids help! Even little ones can have simple jobs in the kitchen...it will amaze you how much they will enjoy it, look forward to it, and it creates a memorable interaction (not to mention, it's a great way to keep them busy and off their devices!)
- Remember, we are the role models and life goes by way too fast -- try to value that “parent” time with them while you can!
Relationships and memories!
We all know good food brings people together. Good food can also contribute to great memories. Have you ever wondered why meals at some restaurants are more memorable than others?
Most likely, the ones that stay with you are the ones where the food is amazing because there has been more thought and care put into the ingredients and preparation. This means REAL food does play a role in developing memories and relationships! The quality of the food can definitely contribute to your experience.
Our memories of meals at the ordinary chain restaurants are probably not as vivid as our meals where the ingredients are fresh and interesting. Is this why we "splurge" on certain restaurants for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries for the great food? Whether it is a great meal made at home or at our favorite special restaurant, if we stop and think about our favorite meals, they probably include a combination of people we care about and really good food…probably REAL food!
Is there a guarantee that if we focus more on REAL food, we will realize these family and social benefits (in addition to the nutrition and health benefits)?
Of course not -- there is no guarantee -- but it certainly can’t hurt!