The issue facing most families is time. One major reason why Canadians eat out on average twice a week is because of convenience: but the time you save grabbing fast food comes with a cost. The average restaurant meal means high-calorie meals with low nutritional value with almost 60% more calories that homemade meals. In comparison, children that eat regular, home cooked meals with their families are less likely to overeat and therefore less likely to be obese.
Another common hurdle to shared meal time is cost. Organic produce can be expensive, and gathering fresh ingredients to recreate a large healthy meal can rack up a big bill, but it doesn’t have to. Grab a fresh frozen, ready-made meal like a lasagna or chicken parmigiana (bonus: cut down on meal prep time!) Then add a side of vegetables that are seasonally inspired and locally sourced: this can be much more cost-effective than products that are imported. You also reap the benefits of ingesting harmful pesticides and chemicals, and you invest in a rich Canadian economy: both of which are good for your whole family.
One of the biggest and frequently unacknowledged challenges is disconnection. Growing up with a device in their hand has become the norm for Canadian children: on average, kids are spending 42 hours a week on media! This has an impact on everything from their focus to their diet. Kids eat a lot more food while in front of a screen, especially high fat, high sugar foods and drinks. Parents, unfortunately, are no less guilty, bringing everything from work to bill payment with them to the table. But this may send a dangerous message to kids that their time is not valued or important. One study found that more and more kids felt they were consistently competing for their parent’s attention with their screens which left them feeling angry, frustrated and sad.
The benefits are obvious, and the truth is crystal clear: children are healthier and more connected as a result of family meal time. The routine offers an important chance for everyone to slow down and appreciate each other’s company. It also gives children an important sense of structure, security and safety: all important building blocks for self-discipline and a general sense of well-being. Keep it flexible by committing to two or three times a week, and vary the menu often. Even if Wednesday is pasta night, switch out your recipes to reflect the season and experiment with new produce. Most importantly, have fun!