Promoting Healthy Families, Schools, and Communities in New Jersey

Family Meals

Family mealtimes were once was a standard part of our society but seem to have drifted away. Studies show that enjoying more meals as a family, offer numerous benefits. Research indicates families attain better communication and build stronger relationships with regular family meals. Children achieve better grades in school and are better adjusted as teens. Family meals benefit the entire family as they enjoy better nutrition.

The reasons that families don't eat dinner together are familiar:

  • Frequently conflicting schedules prevent family meals
  • Often families report that they don't have time to cook
  • Some parents profess that they don't know how to cook
  • Many families have the television on during dinner and many actually eat in front of the television

Sometimes a very simple activity can have important, long-lasting benefits. According to parenting and health experts, this is exactly the case with family mealtimes. Eating and talking together can help children be happier, healthier, and more successful in school. Family mealtimes can also help make parenting easier!

Family mealtimes foster family togetherness.

EATING TOGETHER is one important way to build a sense of family unity. Developing a sense of family identity and togetherness helps children feel safe and secure in a world that can be confusing. Mealtime conversations--both the talking and the listening--are more important than the location where you actually eat together or the specific foods that are served.

Family mealtimes help prevent behavior problems.

If you want to keep your child from getting into trouble, family mealtimes are a great place to start. The more often that families eat together the less likely teenagers are to become depressed, use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, smoke cigarettes, develop eating disorders, or get pregnant. A simple family habit leads to impressive benefits for kids.

Family mealtimes help children do well in school.

MEALTIME CONVERSATIONS also translate into success at school. As children listen to adults talk, they learn important language skills, such as new vocabulary and putting words into sentences. These skills, which are necessary for understanding what is read and for expressing oneself verbally, help children do better in the classroom and on tests.

Family mealtimes help improve children's nutrition.

is also important. When families make mealtimes more of a priority, they naturally tend to pay more attention to what is served. Children who have more family meals get more of the nutrient-rich foods that build strong bodies and smart brains: more fruits, veggies, lean meats, and low-fat milk; fewer fried foods and soft drinks.

Family mealtimes help prevent weight problems.

SMART EATING HABITS help children grow up being a healthy weight, avoiding problems like being seriously overweight or developing an eating disorder. During family meals, parents can model positive, healthy habits for their children, such as eating slowly, enjoying a variety of foods, and stopping when comfortably satisfied rather than overstuffed.

If family meals are not a part of your regular routine, it might seem difficult to get started. Talk over the idea of sharing family meals with other adults who feed your child, and then talk with your child. Then take action to plan family mealtimes, which should be positive, and a time for sharing.

Family meals can include eating with anyone you love, care for, live with or who cares about you. Family meals can take place during breakfast, lunch or dinner. A family meal can shared at your dining room table, at the park, or even in a restaurant. The place doesn't really matter; it is the sharing between family members that is important to the social, emotional and physical growth of your children. Then you will be making mealtime "family time."

Children and youth who eat meals together with their families have more nutritious diets. For example, eating family dinners is related to higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and many nutrients such as calcium, folate, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C and E. Eating family dinners is also linked to lower consumption of saturated and trans fats, fried foods, and soda. In addition to the higher quality of diet, family mealtimes can help children learn and establish healthier eating habits.

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