Melissa Arca

Melissa Arca: Even if it's takeout, family mealtime is precious

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 - 4:16 pm | Page 1D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:10 pm

Come 4 o'clock, every single day without fail, I realize that I must come up with a dinner plan. So much for the lofty goal of weekly meal-planning. I don't know why, but it always seems to sneak up on me. It's as if I'm surprised that I have to do this all over again.

So needless to say, preparing and getting a meal on the table is rushed.

And depending on my work schedule and the kids' after-school activities, time is scarcer and getting us all to the dinner table (with food) becomes quite the challenge.

But it's important, and the benefits of family dinners are numerous. So, I keep trying.

A time to connect: After a full day of hardly seeing each other since the morning rush out the door, this is an opportunity to reconnect. There are no distractions (so keep the TV off and the iPhones away), and it's just us and dinner. I try to ignore the fact that my picky eater is playing with his food instead of eating it and ask him about his day.

We all talk about the good and not-so-good parts about our days, and we (the parents) get a glimpse into our children's world while at school. Sometimes we find out things we wish we hadn't; like that book report that's due tomorrow, and oh by the way, it's going to require our attention and assistance.

Healthy eating: No matter what you have time to prepare for dinner, home-cooked meals are generally healthier than eating out. It's a wonderful way to model healthy eating habits by eating your fruits and vegetables and drinking a lot of water.

A recent study revealed that keeping kids at the dinner table an extra three minutes (20 instead of 17 to be exact) at least four times per week translated into a healthier weight for kids. Those extra minutes spent with your children really do add up. No doubt it's a combination of factors such as positive parental interactions (as long as the struggle to get them to stay doesn't outweigh it too much) and getting kids to stay long enough to eat the variety of healthy foods you've laid out before them.

Teen connection: Family dinners have long been touted as a way to positively connect with teens in particular. Studies have demonstrated that teens who regularly sit down to dinner with their families have a diminished propensity to smoke, use drugs, and drink alcohol. Grades are positively impacted too.

For these reasons and more, I am a big believer and advocate for making family dinners a priority. I know it's challenging and not possible every night of the week; but if you can manage four out of seven nights, I'd call that a huge success.

Believe me, there are some nights I pick up food to go on the way home.

Still, I set the dinner table and gather everyone around. Sure there's the usual refrain of sibling squabbles, complaints of "I don't like this," and that look my husband and I give each other that says "why are we doing this?" But in the end, we do end up talking, laughing and enjoying this focused time together.

Family dinners can sometimes be a pain to pull off, but in this case the benefits absolutely outweigh the challenges involved.

And one of these days, I'll figure out the magic that is meal planning.

Hopefully.

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