Study: Children Eat Healthier During Family Meals

A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics reveals that children who joined family members regularly for meals were 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods than children who rarely ate with families.

And that’s good news for families hoping to buck the growing trend of eat-and-run lifestyles.

Parents Stacy and Matt Zimmerman said the family meal has been a time-honored tradition that dates back to when they were children.

“I have great memories of it, and I want to create those same types of things for my kids,” Matt said.

“It was a priority that our parents made, and it was never really even something we discussed. We just started doing it,” Stacy said.

But health experts said that as people continue to be pressed for time in their busy lives, families that sit down together for meals could be in the minority.

“Today, families are very different. Both parents are working, and oftentimes, kids are in sports or after-school activities. People are eating on the run; they’re eating through drive-throughs and that just wasn’t happening 20 or 30 years ago,” said Amanda Hellman, a dietitian at Dean Clinic.

Hellman said the practice of families eating together at home translates to healthier meals.

“There are a lot of things that happen when families eat together. Kids typically eat more fruits and vegetables. The meals at home are usually higher in calcium, iron and fiber. They’re lower in sugar, calories and salts,” Hellman said.

In addition to the physical health benefits, experts said the family meal keeps an open line of communication, boosting the family’s emotional well-being.

“Eating together as a family also provides kids to have an outlet to talk about things that are going on at school. Parents can talk about things that are going on at work, so it really builds that family relationship,” Hellman said.

It’ll be years before 6-year-old Zack and 2-year-old Addison enter their teens, but when they do, the Zimmermans said they hope they remember this dinnertime tradition.

“The biggest benefit I see is that the kids see that it’s a priority for Matt and I. We want to spend time with them; we want to be with them. And they see that we’re trying to eat healthy and trying to eat together,” Stacy said.

“I think Stacy and I both feel like if we make it a priority now when they’re (young), when things just start getting hectic with activities and sports, maybe we have a little bit better chance of keeping some semblance of the dinner together.” Matt said.

For parents with picky eaters at home, Hellman said it usually takes children about seven or 10 times before they decide if they like a new kind of food, so persistence is key.

Experts said parents should talk to their children about why it’s important to the family to have meals together, and they should get children involved in the decision-making and meal preparation.