A tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation is family mealtime. But, does your time spent together as a family at the dinner table seem different than the generation before? It probably does.
With dual careers, busy schedules and the temptation of fast food drive-thru, family mealtimes often suffer. Intentions are there, but it’s simply not happening. Recent surveys show that 80% of families value mealtime together, but 33% actually achieve it. Family mealtime is important. There are too many positive health benefits that our children get out of it to be ignored.
Importance of Family Mealtimes
A growing body of research shows positive implications of family mealtimes on children. Here are my top five:
1. Better grades — Studies show kids who eat with their families perform better in school and have a broader vocabulary. Family meals offer an opportunity for conversations where kids learn vocabulary-building words to help them read and communicate better.
2. Learned skills — Family mealtime helps in the development of adult-child communication skills. It offers a time for togetherness, which helps children develop a sense of belonging, trust and better self-esteem. In addition, parents can serve as positive role models and help their children learn important skills, such as meal planning, grocery shopping, setting the table, preparing the meal, serving the meal, polite table manners and enjoying nutritious food choices.
3. Consume more nutritious foods — A Harvard study found that families who eat together are twice as likely to eat their five servings of fruits and vegetables a day as families who don’t eat together. Finally, children who regularly eat with family have diets higher in fiber, calcium, iron, folate and vitamins B6, B12, C and E.
4. Healthier weight — Children who eat meals with their families are less likely to be obese than those who eat alone. That’s because children consume less fried food, added sugar, and soda when they eat together. When there are no TV, computer, and phone distractions, children also eat better foods and are less likely to overeat. They eat more slowly (learning to detect true hunger), and talk more. The talking is as important as the food itself.
5. Less behavior problems – Family meals are positively associated with reducing risk-taking behaviors among children. Teens are less likely to use tobacco, drugs, and alcohol, and get pregnant, due to the increased family connection and communication at mealtimes.
Although 5 family mealtimes a week are optimal, research shows that family meals even 3 times a week makes a HUGE difference in the health of family members – emotionally, physically, nutritionally, psychologically, academically, and behaviorally. Isn’t it great to know that one simple behavior, that both parents and children report loving, can nourish one’s total well-being and make a lifelong impact, beyond the table? Think of mealtime as Family Time!
Resources to Help Make an Impact
Making family mealtime a reality is about routine. What 3 nights a week can you make family mealtime become a reality? Do you need to eat on the bleachers or around a park table to make mealtime a reality? Do you need to cook ahead on a weekend, pick up foods to take on a picnic, have sandwiches for dinner, or let every family member pitch in, just to make it happen? Here are several resources I recommend to help bring back the tradition of family mealtime and making it last:
• National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Enriching Family Mealtimes toolkit – helps busy families enjoy more mealtimes together – see “how-to” tips, advice, tasty quick recipes, menus, shopping lists, conversation starters, menu planning forms, plus many other resources.
• Purdue University’s Promoting Family Meals project – lists books, research, studies and articles on family mealtimes- a comprehensive reference.
• National Restaurant Association’s Kids Live Well initiative — lists healthful Kids LiveWell options that many of the nation’s leading restaurant companies are offering for kids.
Personal Note: Thank you, Florida Dietetic Association, for inviting me to speak on the topic of the Importance of Family Mealtimes to your talented group of registered dietitians on July 19, 2011. I would also like to thank NCBA for sponsoring the session, and for creating the amazing toolkit, Enriching Family Mealtimes, which will be a valuable resource for RD’s, teachers, and parents, in helping to secure the tradition. Family mealtime can help families eat better, maintain healthy weights, and prevent weight gain.
For more resources and tips, visit my website Georgia Kostas Nutrition. Follow me on Twitter @georgiakostas or like my professional Facebook page, Georgia Kostas Nutrition. Check out my book, The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate, where you’ll find balanced no-fuss meals, quick recipes, snack ideas and more.