Published: September 16, 2022
Between working late, kids activities, and other obligations, a packed family schedule may mean less time to sit down and have a meal together. For military families, that time to sit down together can be further disrupted by TDYs, deployments, swing shifts, and irregular schedules. It’s no wonder why one of the top issues affecting military families is the amount of time away from family, according to the 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Therefore, meals together can be frequently neglected.
But when military families face food insecurity, the meal planning and preparation required to spend that quality time together can become even more complicated. According to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 14% of active-duty enlisted families reported low or very low food security, meaning they may have difficulty affording healthy food. While families that are food secure and organized generally can plan and prepare meals with little difficulty, families that are food insecure and organized can benefit from meal planning, which can lead to better well-being in their home (Russell, 2021).
The good news is that you can think beyond the traditional family dinner to reap the benefits of meal planning and connection at the table. Breakfast is great if that works for your family. Another option is to meet your child at school for a quick lunch together. Ultimately, having a meal together – whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner (or a combination of the three) – is well worth the effort. Here’s why:
- Healthier Eating, Behaviors, Academic Outcomes for Children and Adolescents
Positive associations have been reported between the family meal and improvements in well-being, reduced risk-taking behaviors, and fewer disordered eating behaviors in adolescents (Middleton et al., 2020). Children who have meals with their family may also perform better in school, have higher self-esteem, and have a greater sense of resilience. Not to mention, for young children, having meals together can boost their vocabulary.
Overwhelmingly, studies have shown a positive relation between family meal frequency and fruit and vegetable intake (Robson et al., 2020). Therefore, if you want your children to thrive while increasing their fruit and vegetable intake, having more family meals together is a great way to make that happen.
- Boost Mental Health
Both children and adults benefit from family mealtime. For teens, meals together is associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts (Eisenberg et al., 2004). Adults benefit from both healthier eating and a better mood outcome. And they are also less likely to participate in weight loss activities, such as yo-yo dieting.
- Improved Connection
Having meals together provides an opportunity for family members to strengthen their relationships and sense of belonging. For military families, mealtime can help improve the feeling of stability, which is especially important when family life is often disrupted.
Of course, eating together takes effort, planning, and cooperation. Include kids and spouses in planning a menu, coordinating schedules, and shopping ahead of time. Remember that meals don’t have to be elaborate! Picking up sandwiches from your favorite shop on your way home is equally as valuable as cooking a multi-step recipe from home. It’s the time together that counts. Planning meals together also leaves room for creativity. Why not turn it into a picnic as you explore your new duty station? What about having an easy dinner at the park before baseball practice? How about tailgating outside of the dance studio?
The options are endless to bring your family together over food. Don’t get lost in the details of trying to make everything perfect for everyone. Just work to keep the atmosphere positive and pleasant. A relaxed family meal helps create a tradition that your whole family will look forward to and fondly remember. And as a result, you’ll feel more connected as a family unit, which further supports the resiliency of our All-Volunteer Force.
Eisenberg, M. E., Olson, R. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2004). Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 158(8), 792-796. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.8.792
Middleton, G., Golley, R., Patterson, K., Le Moal, F., & Coveney, J. (2020, October). What can families gain from the family meal? A mixed-papers systematic review. Appetite, 153. https://www-sciencedirect-com.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/journal/appetite/vol/153/suppl/C
Robson, S., McCullough, M., Rex, S., Munafò, M., & Taylor, G. (2020, May). Family meal frequency, diet, and family functioning: A systematic review with meta-analyses. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 52(5), 553-564. https://www-clinicalkey-com.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/#!/content/journal/1-s2.0-S1499404619311546
Russell, T. (2021, March 8). Family Meal Habits May Point to Food Insecurity and Stability. Verywell Family. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/study-reveals-pattern-in-food-insecure-families-5114509