As a mother and environmentalist, Laurie David knows that healthy and sustainable eating practices start at the dinner table. In this Q&A with Nourish, she talks about why family meals are essential for children’s health, growth, and emotional development.
Check out Laurie’s book The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time to discover tips and recipes for making family mealtimes matter. You can explore more ideas from Nourish in Bryant Terry’s Cooking Together and Dr. Nadine Burke’s Food and Family.
Nourish: Why are family meals important for children’s health and wellbeing?
Laurie David: There are many benefits in the simple act of sitting down to eat dinner together. Kids get better grades in school, are less likely to do drugs, and develop healthier eating habits.
Family meals provide deep emotional benefits. They boost self-esteem and resiliency, and the ritual gives children a sense of safety and normalcy. It is a consistent place where they have access to their parents, and their parents have access to them. When you make the table a treasured place, you are sending a message to your loved ones: This time together—to share food, laugh, and talk—is sacred.
From a health perspective, only when we cook for ourselves do we really know what we are eating. If all your meals come from take-out, restaurants, or the processed food aisle in the grocery store, you can be pretty sure the food is higher in fat, sodium, and sugar. Sharing family meals gives parents the opportunity to teach kids how to eat well, what size portions to take, and manners.
Nourish: What sort of education happens in the home kitchen and at the dinner table?
Laurie David: The kitchen is the best place in the house to practice and teach green values, such as buying food locally, in season, and organic; using cloth napkins and real glasses, plates, an utensils; and growing your own herbs and composting. All of these choices and actions help us to live more sustainable, healthy lives, while also saving money.
The dinner table is where we learn how to debate and listen to each other. Parents model conversation skills every time they have a discussion. It’s a great place for verbal games and teaching word definitions and spelling. Everyone can learn something while having fun.
Eating together also teaches gratitude. Dr. Wendy Mogel says that gratitude is a muscle, and it needs to be exercised. What better place than at family dinner, where there is much to be grateful for?
Nourish: Why is it important to involve the whole family in the meal prep process?
Laurie David: By giving a couple of simple jobs to your family members, they will become more engaged. When a child helps in making a meal, they take ownership and pride in it, whether they just stirred the bowl a few times or helped in a considerable way. Kids are more likely to try new foods if they’ve had a hand in prepping the meal. They are going to learn that cooking isn’t a chore, but instead a fun way to spend time with their family, creating something of value that can be shared by many. Everyone can help clean up after the meal, too.
Nourish: What does the food movement mean to you?
Laurie David: All issues we care about, from the health of our families to the health of our planet, intersect at the dinner plate. I believe the food movement is going to eventually engage everyone, because we all have to eat. The way we are eating is completely unsustainable, and it’s killing us. Diet-related illness is the number one killer in America.
Many of us are unaware of the impacts of our food choices on our bodies and the planet. It’s time to wake up. We as consumers need to demand more from our government in terms of the safety of our food. We all need to take a little more personal responsibility, as well, becoming educated, sharing what we learn, and growing a little food ourselves.
About Laurie David
Laurie David is a mother, environmentalist, and author of The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time. She produced the Academy Award-winning documentary film An Inconvenient Truth. She also wrote the bestselling book Stop Global Warming: The Solution is You! and The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming (co-authored with Cambria Gordon). Learn more about Laurie and discover family mealtime tips at www.thefamilydinnerbook.com.