Family Meals Build Healthier Kids

Dr. Kathryn Self's picture
By Dr. Kathryn Self on May 9, 2018

Your family’s life is busy. Trying to balance work, activities and expectations are pulling you in a hundred different directions.

But it might be worth it to make time in the busy day for family dinners.

The average American eats one in every five meals in their car, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.
 
When your family sits down together for a meal, you’re connecting in a special way. You’re taking time for each other and building a stronger bond.

As a parent, you’re showing your kids that time together is important and teaching them important communication skills.

And the benefits of family meals may be long-lasting.

A study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics shows that children who regularly eat meals with their families have better social skills and fitness levels.

According to thefamilydinnerproject.org and Center on Addiction, other studies have linked regular family meals with lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem.
 
It may not be possible to eat dinner together every day, but try to sit down for a meal together as many times as you can throughout the week.

Before long, it will be a tradition that your family looks forward to and happily makes time for.
 
Here are some tips to make family dinner the best it can be:

1. Make it a no-electronics zone.

Set your cell phone and tablet aside, and have your kids do the same. Turn the TV off. Focusing on each other for this period of time lets you really connect with each other.

2. Make it nutritious.

This is also a good time to teach your kids about the importance of a healthy diet and how it can benefit their mind and body.

Studies show that kids who eat meals regularly with their family have lower rates of obesity and eating disorders.

3. Ask questions.

This is a time to catch up on how that test went at school, what the progress is on that work project or what the plan is for the weekend.

4. Talk, talk, talk.

Younger kids learn vocabulary faster when it’s spoken rather than reading it in a book. Conversation around the dinner table help them learn not only words, but context and important life lessons.

5. Do it together.

Older kids can help prepare the meal, and younger ones can set the table. Or, assign prep and clean-up roles that rotate week to week.

Not sure how to get your kids talking at the table?
 
For younger kids, guessing games or games that use their imagination can be fun and promote learning.
 
School-age kids might like questions that encourage them to be creative and funny.
 
With teenagers, asking specific questions that get them thinking can help them communicate better.
 
There are lots of great conversation ideas on thefamilydinnerproject.org.

Just remember when it comes to you and your kids, it is not about perfection, it is about connection.
 
Take some time to sit down, eat and enjoy your family. It will be well worth it for everyone.
 

Kathryn C. Self, M.D., is a pediatrician at Carilion Children's pediatric medicine practice in Rocky Mount, Va. Check out Dr. Self's bio to learn more.
 
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