18 Sep FAMILY MEALTIME—REAPING THE BENEFITS
September is National Family Meals Month. The benefits of eating together as a family can not be overstated. Research has shown that families who eat together at least 3 or more times per week can reduce risky behaviors in children, increase their self esteem, and improve their nutritional health. These benefits are achieved by talking, listening, and building strong family relationships. Meal times provide an opportunity to model healthy choices and have open discussions about good nutrition.
The good news is that we are doing a better job than a decade ago at bringing our families together to eat. In 2003, only 52% of families reported eating together at least 3 meals/week. In 2010, 73% of families have reported eating together. These statistics are encouraging.
In 2011, Hammons and Fiese, found that:
- Teen-age girls, who ate at least 5 meals per week with their families, were 35% less likely than other teens to engage in disordered eating.
- 24% more likely to eat healthier foods; and
- 12% less likely to be overweight.
Knowing the benefits, how many nights a week should we try to eat dinner together?
Researchers have found that families who eat dinner together five nights a week reap great benefits, but there is no magic number. Sharing any meal together also works. If a weekend brunch works out better, then that also counts.
I have an allergic child who wants to eat the same food every night. How can I stop this pattern?
Keeping your child safe and making them feel included at meal time is crucial. One key way to get out of the pattern of repetitive eating styles, is to create a ‘family style’ approach to feeding. This style involves setting out a number of dishes, including your allergic child’s favorites (ie. Bread, fruit, milk) and allowing your child, without pressure, to self-feed. If you model healthy behaviors over time and without the battles, your child will be inclined to choose other foods at the table as well.
How do I get my child more interested in food and nutrition?
Depending on your child’s age, get them involved in the process. Planning meals ahead, shopping, and cooking are great ways to involve children and have them become more interested in what they are consuming.
My family is so busy, how can we do this?
With extracurricular activities, homework, and work schedules, it is sometimes very difficult to find the time to eat together. If this is the case for you, follow some of these strategies:
- Keep meals simple and plan ahead so that all ingredients are available when time is tight.
- Make freezer-friendly meals such as: casseroles, lasagna, and soups
- Get everyone involved in setting the table, pouring drinks, etc.
- Turn off the electronics. Make dinner time about conversation, not about television or other distractions.
- Be creative with meal times and location. For example, if you are at a soccer game, bring a picnic blanket and sandwiches. That also counts!
- Keep fast food to a minimum. Try to avoid no more than 1 fast food meal per week.
For more ideas on making family dinners easy and fun, visit the Family Dinner Project at: thefamilydinnerproject.org