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Are Family Meal Times Important?
Unfortunately Fast food Restaurants are Quick, Convenient and Easily Accessable
There is much research to show the benefits of families eating together, communication and healthy eating to name a few. However with today's busy lives it is often a challenge to get the whole family together for meal times. Work commitments, sports activities and school commitments all make family meals a juggling act. At the same time these continuingly busy lives means the need for family mealtime is even more important.
In an article titled Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference by Eliza Cook and Rachel Dunifon, it is suggested that children who have regular family meals are 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthy food and 12% less likely to be overweight.
So why exactly is a family meal so important?
What Constitutes a Family Meal?
Generally a family meal is when all family members eat together at the same time, enjoying the same meal. Cell phones, TV's and any other electronic gadgets are off and away for the duration of the meal and all pets and toys are in another room. Plenty of communication, sharing and discussion occurs.
Balanced Healthy Meal
Family Dining Room at the White House durng the administration of William Jefferson Clinton.
Planning, preparing and sharing a meal allows families to make healthy choices about what they eat. Restaurant and fast food meals are often high carb and fat and accompanied by a soda drink, making it harder to make healthy choices.. Planning and preparing meals together helps children to understand what goes into meals, what positive food choices to make and how to have a balanced diet. Involvement in the family meal can begin at an early age. Children can help set the table, load the dishwasher, chop and wash vegetables and help with shopping lists, progressing to being involved in the planning and cooking of the meal.
A Harvard Study revealed " children who ate family dinners more frequently had more healthy eating habits" . This goes a long way to make sure they make healthy choices when they are not at home and as they become independent individuals.
A survey by Louis Harris and Aassociates in 1994 found that 'students who regularly ate dinner with their families four or more times a week scored better than those who ate family dinners 3 or fewer times per week.'
Studies have also shown that regular family meal times help preschoolers develop better language skills through conversation.
Children learn about social interaction, appropriate meal time behavior and manners by copying role models. Meal times are a perfect way to experience adult with adult, adult to child and sibling interactions. Familiy members will be modeling table manners, etiquette, sharing and how to take turns in conversation. It is also a useful way to reinforce food hygiene when eating and preparing food.
Shared meals is a perfect time to have informal, quality communication with family members. Meal times should be a time of open discussion where everyone is encouraged to communicate. It's a good time to discuss anything that is happening over the next week, any plans or preparation need, any questions or concerns anyone has.
Research has shown that teens who eat meals with their family they reduce the chance of being pressured into risky behaviors.
Having a regular family meal at a designated time everyday reinforces a routine from an early age. This helps younger children to keep to schedule to encourage proper sleeping and eating patterns. If dinner is at the same time everyday children are less likely to graze on junk food or have a mixed up Day. Older children to self organize their day, knowing when to do homework and study and know when and how to make healthy choices.
Having a good routine and weekly plan will also aid healthy eating in tne long term.
Better Mental Health
In the article by Eliza Cook and Rachel Dunifon it is suggested that children who eat family meals regularly have improved psychological well - being. They are less likely to become depressed as they are having regular communication with family members.
Does it Have to Be Dinner?
For some families it is not possible for everyone to be available to eat to together, conflicting schedules, long commutes, evening sports all make it challenging. A shared meal does not have to be at dinner time, breakfast can also be a good time for everyone to get together. Some of the perparation can be dome the evening before, the table can be set, ingredients ready so that minimum time is required before the morning meal.