Regular family mealtimes improve children’s health and academic performance!
Now that your children are back in school and your family’s activities are in full swing, one of the most important things you can do is take time to eat frequent family meals. Research consistently shows that families who eat meals together reap many benefits! For instance, children who consistently eat meals with their families consume more nutritious meals than those who do not. Family meals tend to contain healthier portion sizes, more fruits and vegetables, fewer snacks, and fewer fried foods. Research also shows that children who eat regular family meals have a decreased risk for developing eating disorders, being obese, and using alcohol or other drugs. These children also perform better in school, tend to be happier, less stressed, have positive peer relations, and a decreased risk of suicide. As an added bonus, family meals also provide children with skills they can use later in life, such as social etiquette, table manners, and conversational skills.
Family scientists recommend remaining flexible when choosing a time of day and location to eat together; if every member cannot be together at dinnertime, schedule a family breakfast, lunch, or picnic. It’s important to make family meals a priority without the distractions of televisions, computers, phones, or gaming devices. Parental involvement and frequent, quality parent-child communications during mealtimes facilitate family rituals, better parent-child communications, higher self-esteem among children, and more secure family relationships.
Eliciting help from everyone in mealtime planning, preparation, and clean up increases the amount of time spent together as a family. For example, everyone can choose menu items, a 4-year old can easily set the table with napkins and silverware, an 8-year old can assist in the clean up, and a teen can help prepare the meal. These opportunities give children more responsibilities, which in turn enhances their self-esteem.
Parents are role models for their children’s attitudes about food, values, and the importance of family time. So, make mealtime a priority and make it fun!