Are You Educating Your Patients About the Value of Family Meals?

  1. Are you advocating for regular family mealtimes in your standard patient education? Simple anticipatory guidance on eating meals together 3-5 times per week can improve health outcomes for the whole family. September is National Family Meals Month.

    Are You Educating Your Patients About the Value of Family Meals?

    As a family nurse practitioner, family dynamics and their effects on patient health are always on my mind. I'm constantly on the lookout for simple, inexpensive, easily-actionable, whole-family interventions I can suggest to my patients to promote better health and wellness. In my experience, it's the seemingly "little things" like this that can make all the difference in my patients' lives. So, when I learned about the growing body of literature on the benefits of family mealtimes, I wanted to find ways to share what I had learned with my patients and every nurse I know.

    Every individual's health involves actions and processes that take place in the context of their relationships with others- in other words, their "family." While most of the research that's been done on family mealtimes focuses on families with children, I can imagine that many of the benefits could extend to adult and senior populations as well. For those of you doing research, that's a great potential topic area...

    The health benefits of family mealtimes are wide and varied. Studies show that regular family mealtimes can lead to healthier eating habits, which translate into better weight control. Family mealtimes also stimulate more open and authentic interpersonal communication, which can help stop risky behaviors, including substance abuse, before they start. And when children and teens engage in regular, meaningful, discussions with adults (and each other), they have lower stress levels and better school performance.

    You don't have to be a family NP to integrate family concepts into your practice. Even if your nursing role does not explicitly direct a family-centered focus, you can appropriately encourage regular family mealtimes as part of your patient-centered care and patient education whenever it's appropriate. If this suggestion seems like a stretch for you, try asking your patients what mealtimes are like in their homes to start a conversation and see where it leads.

    The literature shows that while families with children say they want to have more family mealtimes, they feel like they don't have time to do so. Families facing this type of barrier could use some help with planning... which is what nurses in all roles are good at. So, what are we waiting for?

    Here are some simple and easy ways to help your patients and their families integrate regular family mealtimes into their overly busy lives. The ideas below are designed to get patients and their families thinking about how family mealtimes can be both possible and fun.

    -Reframe the concept of time.
    Since the main excuse for not eating together regularly seems to be, "there's not enough time," a solution might be rethinking or reframing the concept of time. Start by planning ahead for family meals and scheduling them like appointments that must be kept. The American College of Pediatricians recommends 3-5 family meals per week, so start with once or twice a week and build from there. Families tend to like family mealtimes and want more of them, which is great because when you want something, the more likely you are to make it happen.

    -Create a participatory environment.
    Planning ahead for family meals involves more than scheduling, shopping, and time management. Let the kids help plan the menus and the venues. Involve everyone in the shopping, food preparation, and kitchen cleanup. This teaches responsibility and saves time. Those who participate are invested in the process and are more likely to remain accountable and follow through. And of course, the more minds on the job, the more creative and fun the process is likely to be. Who says a family meal has to be an evening meal? It could be breakfast or lunch. As long as the meal involves family members eating together, mission accomplished.

    -Keep the conversation positive.
    When the time spent together is pleasant, those involved will want more of it. If problems or potential problems arise, parents can address them in one-on-one conversations outside of mealtime. Making mealtime pleasant and enjoyable will fuel the desire to have more and more family meals together. And of course, a tension-free dining environment is good for digestion.

    -Keep the process simple.
    Keeping a list of favorite quick and simple family mealtime recipes allows you to focus on the time spent together rather than the food itself. Try making double batches of soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes that can be frozen and reheated easily for future meals when prep time is short. Use a crockpot to free you up pre-meal for more and different types of family interactions.

    -Ban tech from the table.
    Set a strict policy of no TV or electronic devices at the table. And in the name of keeping things positive, you may choose to allow for occasional tech-flexibility exceptions. For example, if everyone's favorite program happens during family mealtime, watch it together, then talk about it later in a tech-free environment. There's always a way to establish limits on screen time and distractions while leveraging the teachable moments technology can afford.

    These ideas and others like them can help your patients and their families generate their own tips and tricks for making frequent family mealtime a reality. The key is to get patients and their families inspired to find solutions that work for them. Sharing this kind of information with my own patients has been met with positive responses and a willingness to try new things and get everyone in the family involved.

    Now that you know the importance of family mealtimes and have seen some basic ideas for self-directed interventions, all you need to do is remember to ask your patients about family mealtimes and see where the conversation takes you. I'm confident you'll be pleasantly surprised by the positive outcomes.


    Sources and Resources

    8 Reasons to Make Time for Family Dinner - Health

    FAQ - The Family Dinner Project - The Family Dinner Project

    Family Dinners Are Important

    September Is National Family Meals Month

    The Benefits of the Family Table | American College of Pediatricians

    The Family Table | American College of Pediatricians
    Do you like this Article? Click Like?

  2. Visit Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCP profile page

    About Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCP, MSN, RN, NP

    Lane Therrell is a family nurse practitioner and health empowerment coach in California. She is an adjunct instructor in the nurse practitioner program at Samuel Merritt University, and is a health empowerment coach in private practice. She blogs at www.BestHealthInterest.com

    Joined: Oct '16; Posts: 96; Likes: 280
    Wellness Coach, Clinical Nursing Instructor; from CA , US
    Specialty: 6 year(s) of experience in Family Nurse Practitioner

    Read My Articles

    25 Comments

  3. by   Here.I.Stand
    I don't because it's too far down the list of priorities in my specialty, but our pediatricians/family med providers mention it in their list o' wellness recommendations.

    I like your suggestions though! This is definitely an area I need to work on in my own family...with several kids having different schedules. I'm often tempted to get going on cleanup as soon as I serve my children. I'm getting a divorce though, so feel like this is an important thing for helping my kids feel united.
  4. by   Fiona59
    As soon as my employer stops requiring me to do rotating shifts. Then I can be home to have family dinner time with MY family
  5. by   KelRN215
    Most of my patients are tube fed.
  6. by   nursej22
    Many of the clients I see are homeless. But there are community meals served 3 x times a week at a local church, and I urge them to go there.
  7. by   By-a-thred, RN
    This sounds like a case manager type of teaching. Don't the floor nurses have enough to do? Give me a break!
  8. by   missmollie
    I don't teach my patients that, but I do this at home. I was a stay at home mom for six years before I decided to go back to school for nursing. I was able to provide cooked meals until I started my first nursing job. Then it was a disaster. My husband didn't know how to cook, and while he tried his best, meals at the table became distant as we relied on fast food.

    There was a plethora of new food companies that would deliver meals with recipe cards to your house. Quick, easy, almost foolproof (but not quite). I started receiving one box a week to supplement when I couldn't cook because of work. It quickly became 2 boxes a week because of how easy the meals were to make, and they were delicious. My husband is slowly learning how to cook with the help of these delivery services, and we are able to have a sit down meal every day of the week.

    I would encourage talking with patient's about their ability to cook (as a NP), as some simply don't possess the skill. Utilizing the food delivery service to learn how to cook is one way to overcome that lack of knowledge. I realize it is not for everyone, but if they can afford the service it should be considered. It is a great way to introduce cooking skills.
  9. by   Horseshoe
    Quote from KelRN215
    Most of my patients are tube fed.
    I bet you gave your mother fits with the smart mouth, didn't you?
  10. by   Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCP
    Quote from Here.I.Stand
    This is definitely an area I need to work on in my own family...with several kids having different schedules. I'm often tempted to get going on cleanup as soon as I serve my children. I'm getting a divorce though, so feel like this is an important thing for helping my kids feel united.
    You definitely have my full support and encouragement to incorporate some of these suggestions-- and others you and your kids come up with. Maybe letting them help you with cleanup could create more quality time together at the table? Please let us know what works best for you...
  11. by   Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCP
    Quote from KelRN215
    Most of my patients are tube fed.
    Our tube-fed patients are a different population, for sure. But, are your tube-fed patients' families encouraged to come in and spend quality time as appropriate? I seem to recall from my critical care rotations in school that hearing can remain intact even when the patient is otherwise unresponsive. If that's true, then maybe it's possible that a pleasant, one-way "dinner conversation" while the tube is in place could be helpful? Dunno. I'm always thinking outside the box, so sorry if that's too much of a stretch.
  12. by   Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCP
    Quote from By-a-thred, RN
    This sounds like a case manager type of teaching. Don't the floor nurses have enough to do? Give me a break!
    I definitely agree that floor nurses are crazily overworked most places these days. So are primary care providers. That's why I like to have simple, quick, and easy "teachable" ideas and comments like some of the suggestions listed above to whip out of my back pocket whenever they're appropriate. I always know I won't get a chance to talk about everything I'd like to with every patient all the time, but I never know when some little tidbit or other will sink in and make a difference.
  13. by   Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCP
    Missmollie, wow, thank you for sharing. I'm so glad the food delivery company was a good solution for you and your family. It occurs to me that even if a family can't afford a delivery service like the one you describe, they could potentially create quality family time around whatever food they have access to (whether it's fast food or canned goods from a food closet)-- if they understood the benefits of family mealtimes, and were willing to give it a try. There is a great book I like to keep a copy of, recommend, and hand out to low-income patients (my nursing school students love it, too!). It's called "Good And Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day" by Leanne Brown. The recipes were designed to fit the budgets of people on SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). There is a discount for non-profit organizations and bulk purchases of 10 or more copies if you want to hand them out. When you buy your own copy, the publisher donates a copy of the book to someone in need. You can find it on Amazon.
  14. by   KelRN215
    Quote from Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCP
    Our tube-fed patients are a different population, for sure. But, are your tube-fed patients' families encouraged to come in and spend quality time as appropriate? I seem to recall from my critical care rotations in school that hearing can remain intact even when the patient is otherwise unresponsive. If that's true, then maybe it's possible that a pleasant, one-way "dinner conversation" while the tube is in place could be helpful? Dunno. I'm always thinking outside the box, so sorry if that's too much of a stretch.
    My patients are children in the community, I don't work in a hospital. They are chronically tube fed, about 75-80% of my patients are NPO and fully dependent on the G or J tube. Most of them are non-verbal and wheelchair bound. Most are in foster care, a few have been adopted out of foster care. Since they are mostly total care, sitting down around the table is a luxury that a lot of these foster or adoptive parents don't have. If they do get a chance to do it, it may be when they have a nurse in the home to take care of the child or when the child is napping and doesn't need to be tended to.

close