With summer FINALLY here (it took a while in my part of the world), my family of four is outside as much as possible and that includes during eating times. In fact, I find my kids wanting to dine in our backyard every moment they get, whether for a mid-day snack or a hearty dinner. I keep hearing the phrase…”I want to eat it outside!” And, I’ve noticed they are. They are GOBBLING up whatever they get with pure enjoyment every time they eat outside.
I admit, we’ve been in a rut lately and I’d like to blame the long winter we had, but it could be my lack of patience, too. We’ve been having the same foods over and over. And my kids have been saying they are full after two bites or they’ve been getting up from the table to play and running back and forth in-between bites. It’s not healthy for any of us.
So, I’ve been a bit inspired by this excitement to eat outside and turning over a refreshed leaf. I’m trying new foods, throwing down blankets to eat on and going back to the basics of mealtime – eating TOGETHER and having fun while doing it.
I know we’ve all heard this before, but I’d like to cite some facts on why eating together can be so important:*
- Family meals are associated with increased fruit and vegetable consumption;
- Eating meals together may decrease the risk of childhood obesity;
- Kids develop a taste for a broader range of foods and decrease pickiness;
- Eating together encourages better psychological health and lower levels of eating disorders.
In my own research – subjects being my own two kids – I’m finding we all eat a bit better when we’re in a fun, relaxed environment, like the outdoors. Together we explore the foods on our plate and my kids have been more likely to try new and different things – including my favorite summery salad (recipe below). They may not have liked everything, but at least they are taking that first bite. And we are actually sitting together and longer! Very little of this nonsense of being full after two bites and less getting up to play with a toy or other distractions..
This is not to say we don’t have our meals that are at the opposite end of the spectrum, after a busy day of doing one activity after the next. However, next time I feel like we are on a continuous downward trend, I’m going to mix things up a bit. Perhaps a meal in the dining room all fancy will liven things up. And, I’ll remember that half of the battle is eating together, too.* Source: Berge J, Jin SW, Hannan P, Neumark-Sztainer D. Structural and Interpersonal Characteristics of Family Meals: Associations with Adolescent Body Mass Index and Dietary Patterns. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113:816-822.