Sharing family meals with all members of the household every day is a practice that has become increasingly difficult to accomplish recently. The newer daily routine often forces us to give up regular meals, and “grab” something on the way. As a result, during the week, parents have little opportunity to decide what foods children are exposed to, to find out their eating habits, and whether fruit and vegetables are part of their day-by-day diet. In addition, many parents feel they have to “compensate” their children for the many hours they spend at preschools and classrooms and this is often reflected by eating processed fast foods, snacks and candy. And this is just before discussing children and adolescents who spend many long hours in front of screens, often alone.
Moreover, many studies have found that sharing a family meal has many benefits which cannot be dismissed. Despite the difficulty of incorporating them in the daily routine, family meals provide benefits that should not be overlooked:
- A shared meal creates an opportunity to develop relationships among family members, and practice social skills by listening and showing interest in others.
- A family meal provides opportunities to share what is going on outside of the home environment and provide mutual support in times of hardship and difficulties.
- During the family meal, parents can supervise the quantity and quality of food children consume.
- The family meal can become part of the children’s daily routine and impart a sense of security and stability, contributing to family cohesion.
In a study conducted by the Universities of Columbia and Minnesota that is to be published in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers looked at information gathered from about 2,100 middle school / high school Minnesota adolescents who participated in a program that monitored their eating and exercise habits and examined multiple health indicators. Ten years later, the researchers re-interviewed the same participants. Among other things, participants were asked about their family meal habits.
- On average, 51% of adolescents who participated in the study were overweight and 22% obese.
- Of the teens whose families never had family meals, 60% were overweight, and 29% were obese.
- There was a correlation between having family meals during adolescence, even only 1-2 meals a week, and lower obesity rates at older ages.
Researchers concluded that family meals may be protective against obesity, partly because they provide an opportunity for emotional connections among family members; giving parents a personal example of improved eating habits, and serving healthier foods that include vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
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