Debbie M., MS, RD contributed this article–
Who knew that eating with your family can help you obtain a trim waistline and happier disposition?
When members of your household come together for mealtime, whether it is morning, noon or night, you all benefit from the gathering and in a variety of ways. The benefits are greatest when families eat together on average five times per week.[i] For both adults and children, family mealtime is an important part of healthy living.
Nutritionally, families tend to eat more vegetables and fruits[ii], and less fried and processed foods when they eat together. The intake of important vitamins and minerals is greater.[iii] The pace of eating is slower, making it more difficult to overeat. Thus, family meal frequency is associated with lower rates of obesity. Research shows that children are less likely to be overweight when they frequently eat with their parents.[iv] They also make healthier choices when not at home.
Socially, the family bonds – it’s a time to be engaged with one another. The dinner table is an excellent place for conversation. It’s a place to unwind and talk about your day. Families that dine together are more connected and likely to stick together in the long run.
Psychologically, the event contributes to emotional balance. Children are more confident and are better adjusted in school.[v] Teens that have family meals earn better grades and get into less trouble.[vi] Partners that dine together are less likely to suffer from depression. For parents, mealtime with children creates a balance between work and personal life.[vii]
How to Make Mealtime Happen
- Make it a priority. While sports and recreation are also important, they need to take a back seat once in a while. If possible, choose those activities that don’t interfere with mealtime.
- Plan on meals together. Set the day and time, even if just twice a week to start. Decide as a family how to work around conflicts.
- Be flexible about the timing and place. Have afternoon snacks planned for later dinners. When you can’t be home, consider a picnic or tailgate for sporting or outdoor events.
- Don’t overlook breakfast, even if you’re just sitting down for fifteen minutes together. Set your alarm a little earlier or set the table the night before to get a jump start.
- Be realistic. Choose an easy menu that can be made without fuss. If, for you, that means a frozen or box meal, then add in some fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Make it fun! Once a week, try something new like creating a baked potato bar with all the fixings for your family to enjoy.
- Get everyone in on it. Together, make a list of family favorites and decide who can take what responsibility for shopping, cooking, serving and clean up.
- Let kids help in preparation. They’ll be more likely to eat something they’ve helped create.
- Prepare an environment of success. Remove distractions and keep the TV, tablets and cell phones off.
- Keep conversation light. Don’t lecture your kids at the table. This is a place of comfort and support. Discuss serious business another time.
- Set aside leftovers or premade sandwiches for when there’s a time crunch. Save take-out meals as a last resort.
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Living alone or on your own? Young adults need to make more time for nutritious meals, too. Eating with friends in a social setting on a regular basis may provide some health benefits.[viii]
What better time to get together than over a meal? Healthy families live, eat and play together!
[i] Family Dinner Meal Frequency And Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and high-Risk Behaviors. JA Fulkerson, M Story, A Mellin, N Leffert, D Neumark-Sztainer, SA French. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006 Sept; 39(3): 337-345.
[ii] Family meals. Associations with Weight and Eating Behaviors Among Mothers and Fathers. JM Berge, RF MacLehose, KA Loth, ME Eisenberg, JA Fulkerson, D Neumark-Sztainer. Appetite. 2012 June; 58(3): 1128-1135.
[iii] Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Older Children and Adolescents. MW Gillman, SL Rifas-Shiman, AL Frazier, et al. Archives of Family Medicine. 2000; 9(3): 235-240.
[iv] Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? AJ Hammons, BH Fiese. Pediatrics. 2011 June; 127(6): e1565-e1574.
[v] Frequency of Family Meals and 6-11 Year Old Children’s Social Behaviors. KR Lora, SB Sisson, BW DeGrace, AS Morris. Journal of Family Psychology. 2014 Aug; 28(4):577-582.
[vi] Family Dinner Meal Frequency And Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and high-Risk Behaviors. JA Fulkerson, M Story, A Mellin, N Leffert, D Neumark-Sztainer, SA French. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006 Sept; 39(3): 337-345.
Frequency of Family Meals May Prevent Teen Adjustment Problems; Teens Less Likely To Do Drugs, More Motivated In School., Bowden & Zeisz. 1997 August. Presentation at American Psychological Association 105th Annual Convention.
Parent Power. J Califano. 2005 October 31. Statement made as president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
[vii] Time With Children and Employed Parents’ Emotional Well-Being. S Offer. Social Science Research. 2014 Sept; 47:192-203.
[viii] Making Time for Meals: Meal Structure and Associations with Dietary Intake in Young Adults. N Larson et al. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009; 109(1): 72.
Shared Meals Among Young Adults Are Associated With Better Diet Quality And Predicted By Family Meal Patterns During Adolescence. N Larson, J Fulkerson, M Story, D Neumark-Sztainer. Public Health Nutrition. 2013 May; 16(5): 883-893.