Haley Schlechter, RD, LDN
5 Benefits to Family Meal Time:
In a high paced world where most parents are lucky if they get to work wearing two of the same shoes it is easy to see why family meals have become a thing of the past for many. Between both parents being out in the work force and children having practices and lessons at different times and places it is certainly not an easy task to coordinate. This does not make it any less of an important task though! Especially in order help assure better health for your children and yourself. Here are 5 reasons, using research, why you need to make family meals a daily habit in your home.
1. Prevent Childhood obesity
Research from around the world has shown that incorporating more family meals into your schedule, or even just dinner can potentially act to prevent childhood obesity(7,8). This does not mean having dinner you picked up food from a fast-food joint, just to unwrap on the couch with your kids. This means making a dinner, maybe even making it as a family as well. There can be a role for everyone in the kitchen, even if it’s just as a taste tester (still my favorite job). This not only can make preparation easier, but it can help your children learn about food and create a healthy interest in what they are eating(7)!
2. Prevent and treat Disordered Eating patterns
Family meals have even been shown to help prevent eating disorders as well as aid in the recovery of eating disorders in adolescents(1,5). This could be due to family meals creating a safe place, where adolescents can socialize with family as well as being held accountable for that meal at least. Also, adolescents of families that eat together regularly are shown to be less likely to have substance abuse issues, violent behavior and depression(5). Again, family meals can create a sense of togetherness and support, for teens specifically.
3. Improves child social skills
Family meals have been shown to also help aid in improving social skills even in children with disabilities(4). A study published earlier this year found that children with disabilities that had a higher frequency of family meals demonstrated greater social skills and engagement in school(4). Family meals create structure and give children with disabilities a sense of stability as well as a set time to practice social skills in a comfortable environment for them.
4. Positive attitude toward healthy foods
Children in families who eat together tend to have a much better attitude toward fruits and vegetables as well as a better understand of the importance of meals, like breakfast(3). You’d be amazed at the amount of kids that cannot recognize and identify different fruit and vegetables. Check out the video I have attached to get a sense of just how big this issue is!
5. Healthier overall family body weight
There has been interesting and clear research that has shown that health of parents who have regular family meals have better health than those who did not hold regular family meals(3). This includes body weight!
Those who have family meals regularly in childhood tend to continue this healthy trend with their future families as well(6)! This means that you have the power to positively influence your family for generations to come just by sitting down as a family every night and eating together!
Cook-Darzens, Solange. "The role of family meals in the treatment of eating disorders: a scoping review of the literature and implications." (2016): 1-11.
Larson, N., et al. "Eating breakfast together as a family: mealtime experiences and associations with dietary intake among adolescents in rural Minnesota, USA." 19.9 (2016): 1565-1574.
Didericksen, Katharine Wickel, and Jerica M. Berge. "Modeling the relationship between family home environment factors and parental health." 33.2 (2015): 126.
DeGrace, Beth W., et al. "Benefits of Family Meals for Children With Special Therapeutic and Behavioral Needs." 70.3 (2016): 7003350010p1-7003350010p6.
Harrison, Megan E., et al. "Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth." 61.2 (2015): e96-e106.
Friend, Sarah, et al. "Comparing childhood meal frequency to current meal frequency, routines, and expectations among parents." 29.1 (2015): 136
Fulerson JA, Rydell S, Kubik MY, Lytle L, Boutelle K, Story M, Neumark-Sztainer D, Dudovitz B, Garwick A. Healthy Home Offering via Mealtime Environment (HOME): Feasibility, acceptability, and outcome of pilot study. 2010; 18(Suppl 1): S69–S74.
Rollins, Brandi Y. et al. The Beneficial Effect of Family Meals on Obesity Differs by Race, Sex, and Household Education: The National Survey of Children's Health, 2003-2004. Journal of the American Dietetic Association , Volume 110 , Issue 9 , 1335 - 1339
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