Start a new “Family Meal” weekly tradition… beginning with Thanksgiving this year!

Start a new “Family Meal” weekly tradition… beginning with Thanksgiving this year!
Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, Mom and Bitsy’s RD

*This post was originally posted on the Bitsy’s Brainfood blog.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the idea of family meals surely must be on your mind. For many people, Thanksgiving conjures warm feelings because it’s consistently about meals featuring family members, good friends, and yummy food. Are these the same thoughts that come to mind when thinking about family meals? Are you even able to have family meals especially during the regular work/school week? Most people now know that family meals are not only beneficial but also very much encouraged by the experts. How does this translate to your daily life? What does the latest research recommend? How should you, as parents and food consumers, interpret this information?

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

Nutrition

Fortunately, there has been quite a bit of research of late. Some of the most noteworthy include Project EAT (I-III)Purdue University’s Family Meals Spell SUCCESS, and studies coming from research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). We surely know that family meals can be difficult to arrange—especially with working parents, kids’ afterschool activities, strained family relationships, and possibly even the aversion to foods served at family meals. But the statistics drawn from multiple studies via Project EAT have found that adolescents sharing family meals had higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, plus the mineral calcium, while drinking less soda. In addition, the more frequently the family meals occurred during adolescence, the more likely these individuals later would have shared household meals as young adults. Family meals were also linked to higher academic performance, greater emotional wellbeing and a reduced risk of using unhealthy behaviors for weight control1.

Overall Well Being

According to CASA surveys:

  • Teens who eat dinner with their parents twice a week or less are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to smoke marijuana, and nearly twice as likely to drink as those who eat dinner with their parents six or seven times a week2.
  • Teens who eat frequent family dinners are also less likely than other teens to have sex at young ages and get into fights; are at lower risk for thoughts of suicide; and are likelier to do better in school. This is true regardless of a teen’s gender, family structure, or family socioeconomic level2.
  • Teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to be emotionally content, work hard at school, and have positive peer relationships, not to mention healthier eating habits2.

 

Academics

Family Meals spell SUCCESS further supports these results. A study by Dr. Catherine Snow at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education notes that conversations occurring around the family table teach children more vocabulary and forms of discourse than they learn when you read to them2.

Reader’s Digest survey revealed  – a teen eating meals with their family was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether they lived with one or both parents. Research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) and others has found a striking relationship between frequency of family meals and grades2.

 

Mental Well Being

When family meal research is further analyzed, the most evident benefit of family meals is decreased depressive symptoms3.

Ultimately, we need more information on the actual frequency of meals, the length of each meal, who is present at the meals, and/or if the research is simply correlated with having frequent meals or truly a direct outcome of family meals. Is it possible that people who engage in family meals have specific characteristics that are different from those in families who do not engage in family meals? The answer is yes. More long-term research identifying the above details is needed3.

Photo Credit: cafemama via Compfight cc

Putting Family Meals In Practice

But what we do know? It’s estimated that three or more family meals, consistent family meals (i.e.: every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), mealtimes with positive interactions and no TV are favorable…and most likely lead to the most beneficial outcomes for children3. So do your best to get some type of meal on the table and enjoy the time with your family. If one shared meal is possible, start here but make it weekly and don’t forget to turn off the TV and your iPhone!! Here at Bitsy’s we don’t strive for perfection, but we do strive for family time and healthier food for all families.

Are sharing family meals reasonable and achievable in your household? As working moms, we know this is incredibly challenging. Can you share your suggestions with the  readers?

 

References:

  1. “Epidemiology & Community Health Research.” Epidemiology Community Health Research. University of Minnesota, 2013. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.
  2. “Family Meals Spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S.” Purdue University Center for Families’ Promoting Family Meals Project. Purdue University, n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
  3. Cook, Eliza, and Rachel Dunifon. “Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference?”Parenting in Context. Cornell University College of Human Ecology, 2012. Web. 2013.

 

*This post was originally posted on the Bitsy’s Brainfood blog.

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