Shared Family Meals Reduce Risk of Obesity

Health & Wellness on 06.24.11
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The family meal.

This is my biggest nutritional soapbox. This is my passion. My hope and wish for all children is that they are able to experience sitting down to eat a healthy meal with their family each night. (OK, I'm a realist, let's say 5 out of 7 nights. Parents need to eat pizza in front of the TV too...)

Family meals are important for the entire family, children and adults alike. They help teach us to eat a variety of foods. They allow us to come to the table hungry and eat until we feel satisfied. And family meals bring everyone together to share, and to on eating and spending some time with each other.

Although my toddler is not quite at the age where we are running around every day for after-school activities, I still understand the pressures of getting a healthy meal on the table.  But when kids are rushed at mealtime, given fast foods, large portions sizes, soft drinks, and getting less sleep, they are at risk of obesity and related diseases.  Take a look at this article about the nutritional content (or lack there of) in restaurant foods geared towards kids.  It takes planning, effort, and skill to get a healthy meal on the table and enjoy it together.  This is all part of good parenting.

A recent article released this June in Pediatrics concludes that:

"The frequency of shared family meals is significantly related to nutritional health in children and adolescents. Children and adolescents who share family meals 3 or more times per week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who share fewer than 3 family meals together. In addition, they are less likely to engage in disordered eating."

Why is this?

Often times when we are in a rush and eat quickly, this leads to overeating. When children are given the chance to sit down for a scheduled meal with the family, they are able to focus on eating slowly until they are full.  Also, foods eaten on the go or outside of the home tend to be high in fats, sodium, sugar, and food preservatives.  A lack of consistent scheduled mealtimes can also bring up feelings of food insecurities with children.  This may lead to kids overeating when they have access to foods because they cannot count on reliable mealtimes.

Besides the health related benefits, children who eat family meals at the table tend to have higher academic success, better social and emotional skills, and have lower rates of drug abuse.  And, let's face it, dinner time is a great way to reconnect with our kids and discuss the day.

Tips to Help Get Healthy Family Dinner on the Table

1. Plan ahead: Schedule a consistant meal time, and let your family know. Start off with a few nights per week to ease the family in.Then make a grocery list with specific meals in mind.

2.  Choose a variety of foods: It's no secret that kids are picky eaters. It can be difficult to find enough meals that all family members can agree on. Just try rotating meals.  Pick a couple kid-friendly recipes and a couple of adult-friendly recipes and eat them evenly during the week. The kids will eventually come around to eating and enjoying the same foods as you do. Remember that kids learn by example.

3. Focus on sitting down as a family: The first step to successful family meals is the act of eating as a family. If this means frozen pizza or take-out, so be it. You have to start somewhere. The healthy part will come later.

Check out my article on feeding your child using a system for even more tips.

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