Not only is a family meal time important to improve communication in your home and to promote family togetherness, research studies have shown that it has a positive impact on a child's health and nutrition.
• Frequency of family dinner has been associated with more healthful diets among children. Children who ate dinner with their families showed higher intakes of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium, iron, and several important vitamins. Data also showed these same children had lower intakes of fried food, soda, trans-fats, and saturated fats when compared to children who didn't eat with their families as frequently.
• Some research has shown an inverse association between the frequency of family dinner and a child being overweight. Some explanations have associated this effect only early on in a child's life and with certain ethnicities. More research is needed in this area to create a stronger association.
• Frequency of family dinner has also been positively associated with developmental attributes (family support, peer influence, boundaries, expectations) and has been negatively associated with high risk behaviors among children.
• Having the TV on during a family dinner, however, was found to negate these benefits. Results have shown that children eat less fruits and vegetables and consume higher fat intakes when they eat with the TV on during dinner.
• Bringing home food that was prepared outside the home for a family dinner has also shown to negate the benefits of the family dinner. Intake of food prepared away from home has been associated with higher amounts of sodium, cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans-fats as well as a higher body mass index.
Family dinners are important for a lot of reasons. They benefit children and parents alike! Having mealtime as a family also allow you time to model positive eating behaviors to your children that will influence their views on food and eating for years to come. Take the time to make sure your family eats together as often as possible! For family-friendly recipes or ideas to improve your family’s health, check out shapeyourfutureok.com.
Kim Bilger is a registered dietitian with a passion for helping people optimize their nutritional health. She lives in Edmond with her husband and three kids who appreciate her love of baking but not always her love of vegetables.