Don’t let your kids skip family dinners

Washington: Apart from being a good time to bond with your kids, family dinners — according to a recent study — can also improve teens’ eating habits, no matter how well family functions. The findings of the University of Guelph study have been published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The research has revealed teenagers and young adults who sit down for family dinners — regardless of how well the family unit manages daily routines, communicates and connects emotionally — are more likely to have healthier eating habits than if they graze or fend for themselves at suppertime.

“Gathering around the dinner table is sort of a magical thing,” said lead researcher Kathryn Walton. “It’s a time when families can slow down from their busy days to talk, spend time together and problem-solve. It’s also a time that parents can model healthful eating behaviours.” The researchers found that when families sit down together, adolescents and young adults eat more fruits and veggies and consume fewer fast-food and takeout items.

The study looked at more than 2,700 participants 14 to 24 years of age who were living with their parents in 2011. They were asked how often they sat down for dinner with their families, how well their family functions, and about their consumption of fruit and vegetables, sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food and takeout food. The study found that family dinners are associated with better dietary intake for adolescents from both high and low functioning families.

“To reap the many benefits of family dinners, the meal doesn’t have to be a big drawn-out affair,” said Haines. “Even if it’s something you pull out of the freezer, add a bagged salad on the side and you will have a decent nutritional meal.”  Walton said many teens and young adults living at home are busy with evening extracurricular activities or part-time jobs, making it hard to find time for dinner with family members. But finding that time once a day — even if it’s breakfast together — can be just as
effective.

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