Eating Together: Family Meals Offer Children Better Health Outcomes

Eating dinner with your family can help improve overall healthy and ensure good eating habits.

Meals are often the focus of social and family occasions. But in addition to developing relationships, sharing meals can have profound effects on your family’s overall health, according to new research. The results of a literature review called “The Benefits of Family Mealtime Across the Growing Years: A Conceptual Model,” were published in the March 2012 edition of The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Sixty-eight other studies were considered in this report.

What Were The Findings Of This Study?

In short, the study found overwhelming evidence for a relationship between increased frequency of family meal time and more healthful eating.In other words, families who ate together less often were more likely to eat bad or harmful foods, whereas families that ate together frequently simply ate better.This translated into more vegetables and fruits, high-fiber foods and nutrient-rich foods, including milk and other calcium-rich choices.

What Other Benefits Of Family Meals Have Been Shown In Additional Studies?

  • Improved performance in school
  • Better psychological adjustment, including decreased incidence of depression, drug use, and social problems.
  • Family bonding and communication
  • Better linguistic abilities for young children

What Steps Can I Take To Increase The Number And Quality Of Family Meals?

  • Plan for it: In a fast-paced world, you have to prioritize and schedule the things most important to you.Otherwise, you will be tempted to skip family meals when you feel stressed about work or other deadlines.
  • Coordinate schedules: If possible, try to coordinate schedules and practices in a way that maximizes opportunities to eat together.
  • Choose easy meals: A lot of preparation or clean-up time for a meal can take the fun out of it and make you think twice about cooking an elaborate meal in the future.But healthy meals don’t have to take a lot of time to prepare; crockpots can produce entire dinners, the microwave can zap nutrient-rich frozen vegetables and a rice steamer can add a side of brown rice all with minimal effort on your part.Even store-bought or delivery meals can be healthy, if you choose carefully.
  • Take a cooking class: Many people cite an inability to cook as a reason for not having family meals.However, cooking is a skill that is easy to learn and can benefit you for a lifetime.
  • Turn off the TV: The television is an easy way to get distracted.Being mindful of what you are doing—like savoring your food or the conversation about the school day with your children—will decrease the chances of developing negative eating habits like snacking.
  • Evaluate your behavior during meals: One study found that certain parental behaviors during meal times can actually be harmful. Never directly criticize or disparage your child about their weight, appearance or food choices; use constructive and educational tools when you need to have a serious conversation about food—but never do it during an actual meal. Don’t force your children to finish a meal at the same pace as others at the table, and be sensitive to your child’s cues that he or she is full (don’t always make them eat everything simply as a matter of principle; if you want them to eat vegetables, save the leftovers and tell them they can’t have dessert or a different meal until those have been eaten).Never use food as a bargaining tool or withhold food as a punishment.Allow your children to refuse some foods (assuming they are eating healthy foods overall) acknowledging they are individuals with unique tastes and preferences.

Family meals are well worth the advance planning that is often required.Whether you need to make room in your calendar or pull your crockpot out of storage, family meals make an important contribution to family health.