Creasy: Family meals can make healthier kids, stronger families

October 9, 2013 

The term “family meals” brings to mind a picture of the iconic American family sitting around the dining table enjoying a delicious meal. Hectic work schedules, extracurricular activities and school, however, impede many families from taking advantage of meal times together.

Eating together as a family may be the only time during the day in which the family comes together as a single unit to interact. Interaction as a family helps strengthen bonds among members as individuals share stories about their days, their thoughts, and their feelings with one another.

In a recent review of family- or shared-meal frequency and dietary outcomes in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, more frequent family meals were associated with healthier dietary patterns in children, adolescents and adults. These healthier dietary patterns were composed of greater fruit, vegetable and calcium-rich food consumption.

Eating together as a family gives guardians the opportunity to model healthy food behaviors to children, which increases the likelihood that children will continue the behaviors well into adulthood.

Sitting down as a family provides a perfect opportunity to strengthen communication among members. When everyone is sitting down at the table together, each member has an equal opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions and to be heard.

Having strong communication within a family allows younger members to feel respected and helps them develop trust in parents and other caregivers.

This sense of trust and respect can be particularly important when adolescents and teens need someone to talk with about the temptations of engaging in high risk behaviors, such as substance abuse and sexual activity.

Regardless of whether your family consists of a single parent/guardian and child or two parents/guardians and multiple children, you can make family meals a success by keeping a few tips in mind.

• Plan meals ahead of time to reduce stress and make the dining experience more enjoyable. Take just a few minutes on the weekend to create an entire menu for the week.

• Prioritize family meals by making them a part of your normal routine.

• Set a goal to have family meals and/or snacks at least three times per week. Many research studies have noted that having at least three meals together each week is associated with the most positive health outcomes for children and adolescents.

• Improve the quality of the meal experience by turning off the TV and all other electronic devices. Encourage communication among family members by asking about their day or by having fun topics to discuss while dining.

If you would like more information on family health or nutrition, please call the Houston County Extension Office at 478-987-2028 or send an email to beccac@uga.edu.

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