• By Ryan Farley, Extension Agent

4-H/Youth Development: Family mealtime: a tasty base for healthy youth development

Source: Heather Norman-Burgdolf, UK extension specialist in food and nutrition Between work, community activities and running errands, meals on the go have become a staple for many American families. You may not realize it, but taking those few extra moments to sit down for a meal with your family fills more than just your stomachs.

Sitting down to a family meal is one of the easiest proven methods to enrich your young person’s life. Psychologically, regular family mealtimes are proven to help youth do better in school on tests, homework and general intellectual development. Social benefits include better social adjustment, especially for teenagers, less likelihood of using drugs, alcohol or smoking, and stronger family bonds.

If these benefits aren’t enough, there are also nutritional benefits. By having these regular meals featuring healthy, nutritious foods, you are helping your young person to develop healthy eating habits, leading to a decreased chance of being overweight.

Convenience is a large factor when choosing what to eat, leaving many families choosing the instant gratification of fast food. You may cringe at the thought of the time put into planning and preparing a family meal, but there is a solution. Don’t make it a chore; make it an experience.

Everyone’s schedule is different, so make these mealtimes work for you. Keeping them quick by meal planning or having an easy-to-make recipe is most time-efficient. Remember that mealtimes don’t have to be every night; work around your family’s availability. Even just one or two meals a week can make a lasting impact on your family.

Involving your whole family in meal preparation can cut down on time spent “working” while maximizing bonding time. Have a family member set the table while you make the main course. Ask others to pour drinks or clean up the table. This spreads the chores out and allows you to spend time together in the process. The whole family investing in the meal makes it more enjoyable and less time-consuming.

The quality family time that you can get from a family meal is invaluable. The goal is to have undivided attention between family members, and with distractions from technology ever-present, this can be hard to accomplish. By making mealtimes tech-free, you will have more time for quality family interactions. Talk about your day, family memories, possible vacations or fun questions that can involve everyone.

For more information on developing healthy young people, contact your Woodford County Cooperative Extension Service.

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