Homework, late workdays, long commutes, after-school activities — it’s no wonder few families eat dinner together. Yet studies show that the family dinner hour is an important part of healthy living. In fact, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children and adolescents who share meals with their families at least three times per week are less likely to be overweight, be at risk for eating disorders, or eat unhealthy foods, such as soda, fast food, fried food and sweets or candy.
The researchers examined 17 previous studies, which involved 182,836 children aged 2 to 17 and found that three or more family meals per week were associated with a 12% reduction in the odds for being overweight, a 20% drop in the odds of eating unhealthy foods regularly and a 35% reduction in disordered eating- including purging, the use of diet pills, skipping meals or the use of smoking cigarettes as a way to control weight. In addition, the kids were 24% more likely to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, breakfast and also more likely to take a multivitamin.
Although the studies yielded mixed results and weren’t easy to compare, overall they show regular family meals are tied to better nutrition. Basically, by simply having family dinners and engaging themselves in their kids’ lives, parents can significantly benefit their child’s health and well-being. How awesome is that?! Also, as Amber Hammons, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the lead study author, points out, it’s possible that parents may influence and monitor their kids more during shared meals.
Remember, the goal is to get everyone to the dinner table and to spend quality time together – not to force Mom into Carol Brady mode. Here are tips on pulling it off:
Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, like chili or frittatas.
Get the family involved. Let kids help prepare meals and set the table.
Use the crock-pot. Put everything together before leaving for work in the morning. You’ll come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal.