How Important Are Sit-Down Family Meals?

Should I involve the family in cooking?

A trick to ensure family members look forward to mealtime may be having them take part in the creation of the food. Especially with children, if they have involvement from the start, they may feel more ownership of the experience and have more reason to anticipate it. "Allowing children to be part of preparation and clean up not only teaches them about food and cooking, it also helps them build skills and self-esteem," points out Castle.

Cooking is something that might excite some kids, and leave others disinterested. Having kids in the kitchen can also make meals more stressful for parents, so it's crucial to find the part of the process that intrigues your kids most, and to see if that works for how you operate meal prep. "I find that my kids tend to taste foods that they don't always eat at the table when I let them wash or chop them (with kid-safe knives!), so cooking with kids can offer them low-pressure exposure to foods," reveals Palanjian. "But you need to be in the right frame of mind and to not be rushed since it usually takes longer and results in more of a mess. So maybe 5:30 on a Tuesday isn't the right time, but a weekend lunch could be a great time to have them help."

The most important factor for parents to remember is there's no one way of doing family meals, so it's not worth stressing over what's 'right' or 'wrong.' In actuality, meals take a different shape for every family, and it's about finding out what works best for yours.

"It can help to remember that 'family' can (and should!) mean anytime an adult has a meal with one child, even if the rest of the family is elsewhere," concludes Palanjian. "Reality is often much more variable and it's okay to do your best in your circumstances."

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