Smart Secrets for Establishing Good Family Habits

Having Regular Family Meals

Why to Do It

family breakfast

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Experts say that eating meals as a family improves kids' nutrition, communication skills, sense of belonging and stability, relationship with parents, and table manners. Maureen Frank, a mother of two and a veteran foster parent in Federal Way, Washington, says she saw the benefits very quickly, especially in the bonding department. "The kids talk at dinner," she says. "You can play with them all day, but when we're all sitting around the table, that's when they really spill about all their problems and the best parts of their day."

How to Do It

  • Don't think dinner's your only option. For some families, like the Hoseins, of San Jose, California, having both parents home for dinner is just not feasible. Instead, "we have family breakfast daily and pancake Sundays, where the kids cook with their dad," says mom Megana. Family mealtime is about making connections, which you can do over lunch or a snack. Turn off all distractions, so no TV, phone calls, e-mail, or text messaging during chow time.
  • Say yes to shortcuts. This lets you spend your time eating dinner with your kids rather than cooking it by yourself. Make meals that will last for a few days, order in, and freeze food. "You have to make compromises, so you might not be whipping up chicken cordon bleu every night," says Candace Lindemann, a mother of two in Miller Point, New York.
  • Keep it positive. Getting kids to clean their plates can be an ordeal. So if you want to digest your own food, try to steer clear of power struggles. "We put food out there, but my daughter doesn't have to eat, as long as she's had enough over the course of a couple of days," Lindemann says. And consider lowering your expectations for what a "sit-down" meal means; by the time you've finished serving (putting the food on the plate they had in mind, cutting everything up into bite-size pieces, and mopping up juice spills), the kids may well be done. Remember that it's a work in progress, and cut everyone -- yourself included -- plenty of slack.

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