Make family meals a priority

Eating family meals may enhance the health and well-being of children.

The average family meal barely lasts 20 minutes, but it might be one of the best ways to influence children’s behavior and development. Research suggests that sharing a meal together regularly can boost a child’s health and well-being, reduce the chances of obesity or drug use, and increase the chances they will do well in school.

Research on family meals tells us that:

  • Regular mealtimes have a protective effect on children. Fewer smoke, abuse alcohol, and suffer from obesity and eating disorders.
  • Regular mealtimes can lead to fewer behavior issues.
  • Vocabulary growth and school achievement increases with regular family meals.
  • Families that eat together regularly have children that eat more fruits and vegetables.

Watching TV while eating disrupts mealtime patterns and has been linked to childhood obesity. Another study has linked obesity to excessive TV watching, a lack of sleep, and a low frequency of family meals – all seeming to be a lack of routine. According to Dr. Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University, “The routines were protective even among groups that typically have a high risk for obesity. This is important because it suggests that there’s a potential for these routines to be useful targets for obesity prevention in all children.”

How do we get our children to come to the family table?

When children become part of the preparation, they also get the chance to feel needed in the family. They feel that their participation is valued. Most children can cook a meal by the time they are eight. Although the quality of food prepared by an eight year old may go down a bit, the payback of having them involved in a family meal is worth it.

Making eating together as a family a priority can help. We are all busy juggling work, school, after-school activities, and exercise. When we include our children in the planning and preparation and make an effort to create healthy meals, it can make a difference. It’s getting into the routine that may take some time. Be patient with yourself and your family and don’t give up!

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