As the years passed, athletic and academic events, evening activities, and dietary differences made family meals much more uncommon. Yet I often find myself on the other side of the stove, cooking dinner for my parents and younger siblings instead of consigning them to another quick bite from Taco Bell.

I realize now that I was lucky to grow up with a dad who loved to cook, and with a mom for whom baking was a passion. I also had the good fortune to grow up in a family with the time and resources to pursue family meals. So if you can’t be available to cook for your family every night, or even every week, don’t let that drag you down. As long as you’re doing the best you can, that’s all that matters.

And sometimes, one night a week sitting around the dining room table is all that’s needed to give your kids a home-cooked tradition that will last them a lifetime. Read on for five reasons that show that home-cooked meals are best for your kids.
 

1) A family that cooks together stays together.

Humans are social creatures, and one of the oldest things that binds our species together is the tradition of sitting down and eating a meal as a group. This emotional attachment is only strengthened when eating food that you’ve either prepared together—as the kids now have a personal stake in the event—but works just as well when it’s Mom or Dad doing the cooking. Home-cooked meals build a system of trust between parents and children that isn’t as easily achieved with take-out tacos and Chinese food.
 

2) Home cooking teaches kids vital skills and eating habits that they’ll need later in life.

It’s important to give your kids healthy, hearty meals both to get them used to such fare and to ensure that they know what’s good for them and what’s not. It does your kids no good to pick out anything sitting in the frozen aisle for dinner; instead, try to get them involved with what you’re cooking so that they can understand that you’re not just making broccoli to torture them. They might not thank you in elementary, or even middle school, but you can rest assured that you’ll have given them lessons in self-sufficiency and dietary habits that will come in handy throughout the rest of their lives.

3) Home-cooked meals are often nutritionally better.

You’ve heard about high-fructose corn syrup. You’ve heard of MSG. You’ve almost definitely heard of saturated and trans fats. The bottom line? Most of the time, when you’re not cooking, you don’t know what’s going into your children’s food. Sure, that “healthy” TV dinner might have zero grams of fat...but the amount of sodium and sugar in there is sure to blow you away! If you have the option, it’s best to keep a sharp eye out for what you’re serving to your kids, and the best way to do that is to cook their meals yourself. Healthy habits are built-in at a young age, so before you take your second-grader out to Denny’s or Pizza Hut for the third time this week, think about the kinds of eating habits he or she is getting used to.

For more information on the dietary needs of your kids, check out this link.
 

4) Family dinners give you and your kids a schedule or sense of regularity.

 

Life is hectic. It’s no secret that between sports, homework, PTO meetings, and plain old careers, families have a lot on their plates. You’d think that home-cooked, family dinners would be anything but optimal in that kind of lifestyle—but you might be inclined to think again. More than anything, regular meals provide a rock that everyone in the family can cling to. They create a sense of regularity and a warm, welcoming environment that the kids can always return to.
 

5) Home cooking is cheaper in the long run.

The Dollar Menu is cheap. Fresh fruits and veggies are expensive. Case closed? Not so fast. A trip to the supermarket can be a lengthy, expensive chore, but if you know which foods to cook, you’ll have a much easier time of it. Soups, chili, and rice dishes can often be made in bulk, which actually brings the cost of each individual meal down quite a bit while giving you fewer meals to worry about later on in the week. The trick is to use common, cheap ingredients to make a meal as delicious as it is nutritious. Your kids don’t need gourmet. They just need a meal made with love.

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