Family Mealtime Equals Healthier Families
The demands of work, school, and extracurricular activities can make family mealtime difficult, if not downright impossible. However, research has shown that it’s very important for families to eat meals together on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. According to research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, children who eat dinner with family are less likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs. Family mealtime is also a time to connect and focus on communication. Positive conversation can strengthen family relationships and help parents understand their children’s struggles. Another benefit is the child’s health. A positive environment at dinner can teach children how to eat slowly and enjoy their food.
There are numerous studies that suggest family meal time may be protective against nutrition-related health problems in children. A meta-analysis by Hammons and Fiese looked at the effects of sharing three or more meals per week compared to sharing one or none. They looked at three health concerns, specifically obesity, unhealthy eating, and eating disorders. They found that families who shared five or more meals together have children who are about 25% less likely to have a nutrition- related health issue compared with children eating one meal or less. They also found that children associated family meals with healthier eating and believed that they would eat healthier if they ate more meals together.
However, family meal time can sometimes result in conflict. This can be related to hectic work schedules or picky eaters. For busy families, start with one or two meals a week and gradually increase the number if possible. Plan meals that are quick and easy to prepare, and have the children help. Children who help prepare the meal are more likely to consume it. Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and author of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, which is the gold standard for feeding, says parents often label their child as a picky eater if they eat small amounts or are inconsistent about their likes and dislikes. However, this is normal behavior for a young child. She suggests parents stop pressuring their children to eat more and instead teach them how to behave at the table. Children’s eating habits will usually take care of themselves in time. Another suggestion is to not cater to your children’s likes, but instead offer a variety of foods and let them pick from what is available. Remember to make mealtime fun, and let your children know they don’t have to eat something they don’t like.