July 11, 2018

Tips for building healthy family mealtime habits

Editor’s Note: This blog post originally ran in Metro Parent Magazine.

Summer can be a tough time to get kids to eat a well-balanced diet. School’s out, schedules are hectic and your kids say they only want hot dogs for dinner. Again. 

But with planning and support, summer can also be a great season for trying new foods and building healthy eating habits. 

United Way for Southeastern Michigan Community Nutritionist Lily Doher helps parents do just that with workshops hosted by United Way and its partners, and through United Way’s Meet Up and Eat Up summer meal sites. Doher says parents can start at home with some easy tips perfect for summer mealtimes. 

Create a positive mealtime environment

Did you know that kids associate food flavors with the context they’re eaten in? That’s why it’s so important for mealtimes to be a positive experience for kids. 

“If children have a bad experience with food, they’ll associate mealtime with negative feelings,” Doher explains.  

It can take up to 10 tries before your child eats a new food. So give kids options and describe the food, but don’t force them to eat anything. Try to avoid making comments about which foods they should eat or how much food kids are eating. 

Try these summer-friendly recipes from local chefs!

Involve children in the meal process

Cooking can be an activity for all ages. Kids can help with organization, measuring ingredients, helping with cleanup. Cooking helps kids to learn skills like teamwork, communication and following instructions. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a list of how children as young as 2 can start helping at mealtime. 

Explore food together

Summer is a perfect time to learn about food. This summer, think about starting a family garden or even just planting a few herbs. Children will be more open to trying new vegetables if they’ve helped to grow them. 

You can also sign up for cooking classes with your kids, like the ones offered by Zaman International and Gleaner’s 

If that seems overwhelming, start small. “Take your kids to the grocery store and pick out new foods to try together,” Doher suggests. 

Make family mealtime a priority

Mealtime can be a special time for families—you can unwind, talk about your day and enjoy the experience of eating together. Studies also show that children who eat more family meals have higher diet quality as young adults.  

And it doesn’t have to happen at a dinner table. This summer, Doher suggests, try having dinner on your porch, at the park, or even on a blanket after your kid’s soccer game. 

“Family-style meals are sometimes difficult,” she says. “But as long as you’re sharing the same space and having a conversation, it’s a positive experience.”