by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Families who share meals together are often healthier. Start a new tradition. Give your family a taste of holiday dinner every night …
You don’t need to spread out a full-course meal to warrant time around the table. Rather than focus on the food, make family the centerpiece. Dishes can be simple during this opportunity to sit together, discuss the day, and appreciate good food. Parents serve heaping helpings of examples on how to live healthy, often without even realizing it, during the family meal.
This is an added bonus to the nutritious options, which are often more readily available at home. Actions speak louder as a well-balanced, proper-portioned plate is offered in place of a verbal “Get a salad. Avoid the junk!” as you slip them $10 for a quick bite en route to lessons, games, and meetings.
A research team from Rutgers University discovered 40 percent of the average family’s budget is spent on dining out, and not usually together. Aside from missing the opportunity to connect with family members, restaurant foods tend to pack more calories and sodium than homemade entrées.
Data suggests children benefit most from familial eating where they eat less junk food and more fruit, vegetables, and nutrient-rich sources. Children who regularly ate meals with family showed healthier body mass index. You do not need to serve fancy recipes on fine china, the quality of interactions alone is significant.
Rushing through take-out or eating in front of the TV did not yield the same improved dietary intake. How you share the family meal is thought to be as important as what you eat. (This is not permission to eat hot dogs and fries guilt-free on a regular basis.)
Even Teens Crave Family Meals
It may seem this age group would prefer life tuned out by headphones and tuned in to friends and social networks, including during mealtime. However, reality shows a different story. The family meal has a strong impact on teens’ appetite for a healthier lifestyle.
According to statistics from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teens who have less than three family dinners per week are more than twice as likely to say they expect to try drugs in the future as those who eat with their families at least five times weekly. Those teens also are twice as likely to have used tobacco and alcohol, and 1.5 times as likely to have used marijuana.
Perhaps this can be attributed to a stronger sense of support gained through exchanges at the family dinner table. Children of all ages feel reassured by the ability to check in with their loved ones, regardless of eye-rolling (theirs) or dismissal of advice (yours). Research indicates teens who dined regularly with family also showed less signs of depression.
Quick, easy dinner recipes can be found everywhere from container labels to the Internet. Entire shows are dedicated to making healthy meals in little time. Spend quality time over dinner, even if it means shortcuts in the prep. There will be days when schedules do not allow a shared meal. Or, issues may cause the shared meal to be stressful. Better to dish it out over dinner than add it to a mental stew.
Discover more about yourself and your loved ones with this regular marker of days passing. Become a healthier family, one forkful at a time.
“Simple Fix: Family Dinners Help Teens Avoid Drinking and Using Drugs,” by Bonnie Rochman at Time.com.
“Why Families Who Eat Together Are Healthier,” by Alexandra Sifferlin at Time.com.
Celery on paper plate: flickr.com/photos/j_regan/1314181490