Family Dinner:

The Health Benefits of Eating Dinner as a Family

By Margaret Chuong-Kim

Families are often so busy that they can’t seem to find the time to eat dinner together. If you are a parent to young children or adolescents the current research suggests you may want to make the time to sit down and share meals.

Eating together appears to hold more implications than simply satiating the family’s hunger. A study published in the November 2004 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health looked at the relationship between family eating patterns and disordered eating among both girls and boys. Disordered eating was defined as unhealthy weight-control behaviours, binge-eating, and chronic dieting. In general, the adolescents least likely to engage in disordered eating reported the following:

• More frequent family meals

• High priority for family meals, in spite of scheduling conflicts

• Positive environment at family meals

• More structured family meal environment

The most consistent protective factor against disordered eating was making family meals a priority.

Another study, published in the May 2003 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teenagers who eat dinner with their parents are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables. It seems that children who see their parents eating healthier foods, particularly during a shared meal, are more likely to follow suit.

Think your teenager would prefer to eat alone? Consider the results of a study published in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Researchers examined adolescent and parent views of family meals and found that both groups hold positive attitudes toward eating together.

It can be suggested that making dinnertime a daily family ritual, involving both preparation and consumption of food may accomplish the following:

• Reduce dependence upon, and consumption of, less healthy food options

• Reduce the frequency of eating out

• Increase consumption of healthier foods

• Help children and adolescents develop positive emotional and physical health

• Build family cohesion

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