by Amy Rivas, MSN, APRN, FNP-C
Ms. Rivas is a Nurse Practitioner at Bariatric Medical Institute of Texas in San Antonio, Texas.
Funding: No funding was provided for this article.
Disclosures: The author reports no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this article.
Bariatric Times. 2022;19(10):18.
October is national Eat Better, Eat Together awareness month. It is a month focused on getting families to gather again for mealtimes and make better meal choices.
Life is often so busy with school, work, and multiple activities, that it’s not surprising that something as simple as gathering for a meal as a family has become increasingly more difficult.
As a working mom of three school-aged, I can attest to the challenges of juggling activities and meal prepping. Modern families are faced by not only time constraints but balancing a child’s nutritional needs with their individual food preferences. Parents are the primary role models for children when it comes to dietary habits, with the home environment shaping and influencing their thoughts, preferences, and eating behaviors.1
Poor dietary habits established in childhood have been found to persist into adulthood and are associated with high risk factors for developing obesity and its related complications. Early intervention of dietary choices not only serves as health promotion, but it might help children to avoid developing certain diseases later in life as well.2 Therefore, while it is understandably easier and more convenient for parents to grab fast food or take out, it is important for healthcare professionals to encourage patients to plan at least one meal a day with the family; when dinner is a struggle to plan, breakfast may be a better choice.
One study showed that not only did shared family meals improve fruit and vegetable consumption, but they showed a positive relationship in family functioning as well, including sense of connection, expression, and problem-solving.3
In my practice, I start with learning the barriers to family meal sharing. If the barrier is a time constraint, we brainstorm about nutritious and delicious meals that are pre-made or can be assembled quickly. Another conundrum parents face is what to do with a child who they have identified as a picky eater. Food neophobia often starts early, around the age of two years, and without parental intervention, it will continue later into life. Research shows that parental guidance, including gentle offerings of a wide variety of nutritionally valuable foods, sharing mealtimes, and modeling positive responses, helps to shape a young child’s trajectory when it comes to eating.4
My suggestion to parents who want to plan more family meals is to start by including the children in the cooking and preparation of meals. Children are typically more excited to try something they have made. I also encourage parents to continue to offer an item several times to a child, knowing that it might be rejected several times before a child will accept it. The rule in our house was one bite for each age of the child, so at two years I expected two bites, at three years, three bites, and so on. To facilitate conversation and connections with kids at mealtimes, I suggest asking them open-ended questions. One tradition we started with our young family is the “best/worst/weirdest.” Each child is asked to share a story about the best/worst/weirdest part of their day. Not only does it get them talking, but their friends who visit enjoy this too!
As we approach October and begin to embrace cooler temperatures and cozy holidays, I hope you too will encourage your families to commit to the one shared meal a day movement.
- Scaglioni S, De Cosmi V, Ciappolino V, et al. Factors influencing children’s eating behaviours’. Nutrients. 2018;10(6):706.
- Mahmood L, Flores-Barrantes P, Moreno LA, et al. The influence of parental dietary behaviors and practices on children’s eating habits. Nutrients. 2021;13(4):1138.
- Robson SM, McCollough MB, Rex S, et al. Family meal frequency, diet, and family functioning: a systematic review with meta-analyses. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2020;52(5):553–564.
- McCarthey C. Study gives insight–and advice–on picky eating in children. Harvard Health Publishing. 23 Jun 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/study-gives-insight-and-advice-on-picky-eating-in-children-2020060920004. Accessed 15 Sep 2022.