FOOD FOR THOUGHT COLUMN BY JAYME ANNAND
Families are busier now more than ever and eating meals together is a challenge. Is there more to family meals than people realize? I looked into the latest research and found nutritional and non-nutritional benefits of families eating meals together. There is so much more than just sharing delicious food together!
Children and adolescents who eat together often with at least one other family member have better food and nutrient intake and can have a protective effect against eating disorders in adolescents, especially girls. As well, other aspects such as making family meals a priority, having a more structured mealtime environment and creating a positive family meal atmosphere are also linked with a lower rate of disordered eating behaviours. Adolescents who ate with their families grow up to be healthier adults, choosing more dark green and orange vegetables, and consume fewer soft drinks.
Frequency of family meals also predicts girls would eat breakfast as adults. As for boys, family meals predict higher intakes of calcium, magnesium, potassium and fibre as adults. Family meals don’t need to be complicated or time-consuming – the key is eating together.
Families that eat together eat better. They tend to eat more fruit and vegetables, drink more milk and less soda. They also tend to eat less fried and fatty foods than children who never eat dinner with family members. Involve your children in the preparation of the meals. The more they help, the better chances they’ll also eat it.
Adolescents who eat together more often with their parents are at lower risk for substance abuse, have better social adjustment (e.g. fewer fights, decreased early sexual activity) and have better school performance compared to adolescents who eat together with their parents less often. As eating dinner together with all or most of the family increases in frequency, so do family support, boundaries and expectations, as well as older children and adolescents having a positive view of personal future and being motivated and engaged in school.
The simple act of eating together as a family benefits children and families. In addition to impacting health, this improves family communication and relationships. Children appreciate established routines such as family meals and often treasure the memories of time spent together. Families that eat together talk more and have stronger relationships. Children who eat regularly with their families often have better test scores.
Eating together as a family bonds a family for life. Family meals give you a special time to listen to your children’s stories and give you a special time to help share your values and shape their lives. Worth doing? I think so!