Am I restricting my child when I say "no?"

Do you ever feel bad telling your child they can’t eat the ice cream while their friends eat ice cream? Are you the mom that always says yes to placate your child and hope that food will not be an issue if you just give it to them? Well, I am the mom trying to balance both scenarios at the same time. Working in the field of eating disorders and weight management plus living in a world focused on food and weight makes me sensitive to my children’s interpretation of all of these messages. Being that is the Fourth of July, I though it would be helpful to answer so many moms’ question “Am I restricting my child when I say “no”? Of course this is a fine line, but today is a great day to get practicing since food will be plentiful at the BBQ’s you are attending.

My Answer: Saying “no” is okay. Restriction can be the equivalent of boundary setting, not deprivation. There is a difference.

For example, say your child is eating food, and you are not okay with it because they have either had enough (meaning multiple pieces) or it’s nearing a meal. If the child’s snack-time choices will affect their overall daily nutrition, you can feel free to say no. If you are at the BBQ today and your kids are grazing on the chips and salsa near the meal and you fear they will not eat the burger, you can say “finish your chips and let’s save room for dinner. Mommy wants to make sure you get some protein and vitamins or enough nutrition before the day is over.”

Parents must recognize that boundaries are just as important when thinking about food as anything else in life. For some children, it is helpful to explain that the candy or cookies are a “sometimes” food and that it may hurt their belly and or even make them feel weak or dizzy if they eat a lot at one time. If you are concerned that your child will be too full to eat their next meal, remember to explain that lunch or dinner is not far away, and it is important to eat a well-balanced meal with the rest of the family. Whatever you do though, do not label the food as “good” or “bad.”

Besides BBQ’s and family celebrations, another instance in which this may come up, as it does in my home, is after a birthday party. My boys come home with goodie bags filled with “little nothings” all the time. Almost immediately, they start tearing through the bags like it’s Halloween, and the next thing I know, we have wrappers and hyper kids everywhere.

Sometimes, my kids ignore the candy, but most times it is a frenzy of excitement, and I must put my foot down. After the boys have had one to three pieces, I simply ask them to give me their bags, and we put them on the kitchen counter, into the cookie jar or on top of the refrigerator. Typically, when something goes in the cookie jar or on the refrigerator, my kids seem to forget about it. This is consistent with the “out of sight out of mind” philosophy. It doesn’t have to go to waste either; I may then give them this food item a week later as part of their lunch or as a snack at a later date.

In this scenario, I gave my kids some but not all of the candy, setting a boundary, without restricting them altogether. (Restriction would be saying they couldn’t eat the candy today, tomorrow or ever because it is bad or because they don’t need it.) Some may choose to restrict their children from eating less nutritious foods, but research has proven over and over again that limiting a child’s intake leads to binging and obesity—especially when restricting little girls or placing them on a diet. More often than not, deprivation is not the answer. Instead, focus on moderate choices now to equip your children with the ability to make healthier choices in the long run.

If you are thinking, well what about at the BBQ, consider this: For today, you can tell your kids they can take a piece of the Fourth of July cake home for tomorrow if they want the ice cream after the dinner, rather than both if they have already consumed a crazy amount of “sometimes” foods. Or you can let the kids have the cake and ice cream just a smaller portion of each to prevent a meltdown after a long hot day. Don’t make saying yes or no a big deal! Life is not perfect and as far as parenting goes, just try your best and lead with love!!

Blast from the Past: 8 Tips to Increase Variety and Decrease Selective Eating

My oldest son, Bobby, and my youngest son, Billy, have thankfully made another step in the right direction of eating all food in moderation. As many of you know, my children, once adventurous eaters (well, at least Bobby was), have limited their variety more and more over the years.

Despite my nutrition background, I have internally struggled at times with my children’s restricted dietary intake and aversion to foods with different colors and textures. What we sometimes have to remind ourselves of is that kids’ habits, like those of their parents, are ever changing. Kids get tired of eating the same old foods over and over again, and just as current favorites fade, old favorites resume as well.

One of the best ways to increase the variety of foods your children eat and decrease selective eating is to reintroduce those former menu staples.

As time passes, I have realized that the apples don’t fall far from this tree. I too was a picky eater growing up and always fell on the lower end of the growth chart, sometimes nearly falling off altogether. Once, my parents even sent me to a doctor because all I would eat was macaroni with cheese or butter for 2 years straight. I couldn’t be convinced to eat a substantial amount of food either, and would say that I was full from half an apple. And, I really was.

For many different reasons—such as exposure to new foods and produce throughout my childhood and teenage years (I even experimented with vegetarianism and veganism)—I eventually figured out how to eat the right amount for me while incorporating a huge variety of ingredients and flavors. As I continue to observe my own children’s eating habits, I feel increasingly confident that, as time goes on, they too will acquire a new appreciation for texture, temperature, color, and quality. (I say quality because, I must admit, I have a penchant for fine ingredients, whether broccoli or a burger.)

So that brings me to the latest update on the home front. At one point, Bobby was happy eating pasta and spinach mixed up with feta or Parmesan cheese and a side of eggs. Then, he got “tired” of those flavors.

Recently, while sitting at dinner with my boys, Bobby said to me, “You know, I would eat the white part of the egg but not the yellow. I don’t like the yellow.” Of course, I had tried to just make him egg whites before; that’s all he ate for some time. But instead of reminding him of this, I said, “Okay, good to know.”

The next night for dinner, I made Bobby his usual whole-wheat mac and cheese with spinach and a side of applesauce (or apple slices). I also included a side of 2 egg whites, cooked without any flaws in the texture. And, well, he ate it up!

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I can now officially say that Bobby’s dinner actually consists of a grain, a fruit, a veggie, a dairy and not 1 protein but 2! Now, this does not necessarily mean that Bobby is ready to eat a salad or dine at a fine restaurant. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But he is most definitely reincorporating former staples into his diet. Knowing that I changed, and that Bobby’s habits are changing as well, gives me joy, and I am loving every minute of observing this process.

This also gives me hope for Billy, who still refuses to eat basic dishes like pasta. I am happy to announce that, when looking in the freezer recently, I noticed a box of Dr. Praeger’s fish sticks. Billy used to gobble these up. Knowing that reintroducing certain foods, even after a hiatus, can be effective, I decided to serve some warm fish sticks to both boys the other evening for dinner. As it turns out, the timing was right, and Billy ate all of the fish sticks alongside his normal favorites of hummus, mango, cheese and Ak-Mak crackers. He has been happily eating the fish sticks for the past week now, and even declared, “I like fish!” Of course, this bout may end soon, but that’s par for the course.

Oddly enough, while away over Memorial Day weekend, a guest at my friend’s house commented on my children’s healthy eating behaviors. This baffled me, as I typically hear how my kids are picky, but this person realized that, while their choices are limited, their intake is generally healthy. If nothing else, I’ve at least managed to successfully inspire them to choose nutritious options most of the time. And if that’s the case, I’ll take what I can get for the time being.


Want to expand your child’s food repertoire? Here are a few tricks that have helped me through the years.

  1. Don’t forget that eating habits are always evolving. Think about your personal habits in the kitchen and when out to dinner, and how this affects your own children’s choices and habits.
  2. Talk with your children while they eat dinner. You may learn something about their likes and dislikes.
  3. Ask your children what they like to eat. It may surprise you what they come up with!
  4. Make your children the foods they request, so that they feel as though you’re heeding their wishes. Then, they may be more likely to comply with yours!
  5. Let your children observe you eating a range of foods to help pique their interest.
  6. Be patient, and don’t force feed.
  7. Reintroduce former favorites and new foods with something you know they like to ease the process along.
  8. Most importantly, reintroduce old favorites and former staples on a regular basis. What they loved yesterday might be off limits tomorrow, and what’s off limits tomorrow might be their future favorite!

Trying New Foods

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A mother asks us: My child sometimes gets anxious when I introduce a new healthy food. What can I do to entice him to try and eat it?

Elyse Falk, MS, RD, Mom and Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, Mom answers…

Elyse Replies:

There are a few important things to remember when introducing your child to a new food.

First, it is a good idea to introduce the new ingredient with other foods that they already like to eat.

Next, make the entire process matter of fact. Tell your child that you found a great recipe that you know your friend’s kids really like, and you thought they would like it too. You can tell them what it is (a grain, veggie or protein) and maybe what nutrition it has. But that’s it. Keep it simple.

In my home, I eat the kinds of dishes I like in front of my kids so that I can be a role model and show them how much I enjoy trying new foods. Don’t get me wrong; there are recipes I have made that I just have to say, “Ugh, this really doesn’t taste good,” in front of them, but I think it also shows that I am human and that they can dislike certain foods too. The most important part is trying them. (Some parents choose to impart a “one-bite” rule in their homes, but I wouldn’t push it if it’s going to cause a tantrum.)

Don’t forget that food isn’t always love at first bite. It may take a few attempts for them to taste the new ingredient, so remember that exposure and repetitiveness is key. Try to introduce the new food in different ways by changing the flavor, texture (pureed vs. whole) or cooking method (steamed vs. roasted).

Friends and family may be your best allies too, as sometimes, siblings or friends could entice each other to try a new food. For example, if one sibling likes the food, and the other one has never tried it before and sees his or her sibling really enjoying new flavors, it usually draws interest and the desire to try them too.

At the end of the day though, remember that you don’t want to place too much pressure on your child. If they see you getting angry over the fact that they didn’t taste or like it, they may feel added pressure or anxiety the next time. Just teach them that, in certain instances, it is ok to reply, “no thank you,” and let it go. Children’s taste buds change every day, so don’t lose hope.

Laura Replies:

If your child is really picky, like my boys are, then start by exposing your son or daughter to the new food before even asking them to try it. Exposure is essential. Place the food on or perhaps just near their plate first. They don’t need to eat it, but they do need to leave it be. Even this can be a challenge. My boys still move the food away from their plate—and far away at that. But eventually, it gets on to their plate and stays there.

Once you’ve accomplished that simple yet monumental task, try implementing the one bite rule. If they refuse to take even a small bite, instead of making a big deal, instead try the one lick rule.

My boys are typically ok with the one lick rule. My oldest son, who is now 5 and a half, is even coming around to the one bite rule, of course, as long as he can spit it out if he doesn’t like it. At this point, if I can ask him to take one bite and swallow, he will—but only with certain foods.

Billy, my youngest, is still in the “one lick phase,” unless he sees something he actually wants to try. Billy has made a ton of progress. He tries a lot on his own now, even though he usually doesn’t like it. I know I was the same way as a child. I only ate macaroni with butter or cheese for almost two years. My mother took me to the doctor at the time; he said I would grow out of it, and I did.

I am still, however, quite picky with the quality of my food. I’ll try anything—even pig’s intestine—so long as it’s prepared well. In this sense, the kids definitely surprise me by which foods they will and will not try, so at least they inherited that from me too.

In the case that your child truly, adamantly does not want to taste an ingredient, you may benefit from simply letting it go and trying again a month later. You never know how their taste will evolve, especially at such a young age, so continue to offer and or expose them to new and different foods periodically. While it may seem like it at times, your children are not only going to eat mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets forever, well – we hope.

Moms: Are your kids anxious around new ingredients? How do you get your kids to try new foods? Do they get their picky tendencies from you?

How This Mom Does It: Guest Blog Post By Suzanne Quint

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This week guest blogger Suzanne Quint discusses parenting books, and incorporating your culture into teaching children healthy eating habits.

I am a mom of 5 year old twins whom I am proud to count as good (but of course not always great) eaters. Being of Greek descent (read: food is everything), it was really important to me that my kids be good eaters.  I couldn’t imagine going through life with them with a rotation of chicken fingers and hot dogs.  So, upon the recommendation of my friend Kate, I followed Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine book pretty religiously.  It was in fact, the only child development book, on any subject, I read.  I cannot recommend this book enough as a foundation and constant reinforcer for those formative early years.  Satter’s premise, in a nutshell, is that as parents we are in charge of what the kids eat and when – and that the kids are in charge of how much they eat.  She also incorporates the idea of having (some!) choice for your kids – so broccoli and cauliflower at the table, for example, and empower them to pick which they want.   As with most things in parenting, the key was consistency and perseverance, which at times was doubly hard with twins.   I’ll say that while we thought early on that my son was a picky eater and my daughter had the Greek-eating gene, he has really turned it around.  In hindsight, he was more stubborn (and still likes to make a big fuss here and there) but our perseverance on always presenting him with real food choices has paid off.  They don’t like everything but we don’t cater to them at mealtime either.  Some things they enjoy– spanakopita (or “spinach triangles” as we call them)– Trader Joe’s sells delicious and affordable one’s and FreshDirect has them too.  And if we order pizza, I balance this meal with telling them it has to have broccoli or spinach on it (their choice).

Going Nuts.

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Most parents are aware of the benefits of nuts, particularly almonds, peanuts and pecans, for our health and our kids’ health. These powerful pieces of nutrition provide essential fatty acids, proteins, fiber, and Vitamin E and help raise good cholesterol, known as HDL. However, the one drawback to this nutritious diet staple is that nuts can also cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction, known as an anaphylactic reaction.

Due to the potential seriousness of allergies, many schools have started to enforce restrictions on the kinds of foods students are allowed to bring to school. This raises some complicated questions for parents hoping to send their children off to school with healthy, nutritious food. What do we do as parents when our child’s school has banned nuts? For some kids, going without nuts means missing their vegetarian protein source. Should we pack our kids dairy every day and risk raising their LDL cholesterol? Should we send tofu and soy butter, which are more processed than natural nut butters? Should we send sunflower butter, which is also highly allergenic and can also cause anaphylaxis? Should we focus on peanut-free and not tree nut-free?

In addition to the immediate challenges these kinds of bans place on nutrition, they also have the potential to affect the ways our kids interact with one another.  Do we advocate for a nut-free table in the cafeteria, which would set kids with allergies apart? While a “nut-free” table would be organized with students’ safety in mind, in enforcing this rule we risk ostracizing them from their classmates. I have heard some moms in Connecticut are fighting with their children’s schools to allow their child with a nut allergy eat with the other kids. Do we go along with the nut -free school zone? Do we recommend establishing this nut-free zone on a class-by-class basis, pending if someone has an allergy?

Where do we draw the line? I understand this is a sensitive subject, and should be — the risks are very high. I do think a nut free elementary school is advantageous. However, when my son’s school proposed a ban on all food products made in a factory that may be in contact with peanuts (at a school where the children eat lunch in their classroom and there may be no allergy in many classrooms) I felt at a loss. I am a mom, RD, CDE and I am now going to have to take on the responsibility of feeding my kids as if they had an allergy, possibly decreasing their immunity to such foods. Busy parents are challenged enough as it is to feed their kids healthy, let alone nut- free food, and our choices are narrowed even further when we are expected to avoid products from facilities where peanuts may have been processed. I would gladly comply if a child in the class had a documented allergy, but to go through hoops and hurdles when it may not be necessary seems overboard.

This excessive caution seems all the more extreme when we consider how allergens and contamination are regulated (or aren’t).  Avoiding food processed in the same facility as nut products is not always effective. According to a recent article by a panel of experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases:

The FALCPA does not currently regulate voluntary disclaimers such as “this product does not contain peanuts, but was prepared in a facility that makes products containing peanuts” or “this product may contain trace amounts of peanut.” Such disclaimers can leave consumers without adequate knowledge to make objective decisions.

The EP identified 10 studies that examined whether standards for precautionary food labeling are effective in preventing food-induced allergic reactions. No study explicitly attempted to infer a cause-and-effect relationship between changes in frequency of severe symptoms from unintentional exposure (for example, to peanut) as a consequence of implementing food labeling. The identified studies mostly assessed knowledge and preferences for food labeling.1

If this labeling is voluntary, unregulated, and therefore possibly inaccurate, does it make sense for schools to use the kinds of labels to inform their policies regarding allergies? Many of my clients with peanut allergies still have tree nuts, and even peanut butter, in their homes and simply know how to prevent cross-contamination. Many of my clients with these allergies still eat foods processed in a facility that may share equipment with nuts, wheat and other common allergens.   So are our schools being too authoritarian? Are they smart for playing it safe, or is there such a thing as too much caution? Should sweets be forbidden from schools for fear of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, conditions that are just as threatening for someone with Type 1 Diabetes? Should grapes be forbidden since they are a choking hazard?

Instead, I recommend schools practice peanut/nut free or safe policies.  Focus on education, emergency plans for allergic reactions and having the epi pen to administer if there is an allergic reaction. Avoiding nuts or rather nut free facilities is not the best answer. Yes, precaution is necessary but we also need an action plan for as we know with voluntary labeling, kids still may be exposed and have an allergic reaction.

What do parents think? Do you believe in nut-free schools?  Do you believe in nut free schools banning food products made in a facility made that may have processed nuts?

 

1. “Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States” Report of the NIAID-Sponsored Panel.”  The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 126.6, Supplement (2010): Pages S1-S58.

Potty Training without M&M's

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Many of you probably know that food shouldn’t be used as a reward. If you didn’t already know this, then, from the prospective of an RD, I am telling you now.

As a mom, however, I also know that this is easier said than done. Food to a child can, after all, seem somewhat rewarding. Yet through my own experiences, I’ve slowly picked up on a few tricks on how to prevent food from becoming equated with success—and I think I can make it relatively easy for you moms out there too.

It all started with Billy, who will be three in a few weeks and just finished potty training. And guess what. We did not use food as a reward during this process.

Since Billy is my second child, I felt a lot less pressured to potty train him than I did with Bobby. Right before the school year began, Billy asked if he could go potty on the big boy toilet, and so I immediately pulled out the kid potty and we started training.

Billy sat on the potty a few times and then on the toilet. He went potty with the kids at school, but he refused to wear underwear or use the potty any other time. I figured I’d just let him be. As my Australian friend Maureen advised, they’ll learn at some point. (As it turned out, Maureen’s advice from down under was great. I just let Billy do as he pleased, and while he was still wearing diapers, at least he was content. And so I was happy too.)

As the holidays approached, the boys and I decided that sport and ski camps could be a fun way to stay busy during their time off from school. But Billy could only participate under one condition: he would need to be potty trained in order to be eligible for the program. I explained this to my three-year-old and offered him a small token to forgo his diapers and, voila—he was willing to concede.

Everyone tells you to bribe your kids with M&M’s. Instead, I opted to present Billy with handmade wooden animal ornaments for our Christmas tree—presents that actually benefited the entire family, though Billy was all too excited to receive them as gifts.

When I ran out of ornaments, Billy picked out a presidential brigade box of cars, limos, security cars, planes and other trinkets. The box cost about $30, but it was filled with 15 to 20 potential presents inside. Each time Billy used the potty, I allowed him to pick out a new vehicle from the box.

I am very happy to report that this ploy worked like a charm. Now, Billy has been using the potty without gifts for the past week and a half. We still have toys left in the box, too.

So, instead of making food seem special and putting what we nourish ourselves with on a pedestal, opt for non-edible rewards like Matchbox cars, temporary tattoos, stickers, cool underwear, or Polly Pocket pieces. If you use food as a reward, you may end up sending the wrong message: that you have to earn food or that food is a treat for good behavior.

Remember to teach your children that food is food—nothing more, nothing less. As parents, it is our responsibility to make sure our children understand this concept if we want to prevent disordered and/or secretive eating in their future.

Do you offer your children rewards for certain behaviors or accomplishments? If so, what do you typically reward them with that could be useful for other moms out there?

Family Meals Bring Turkey to Bobby's Plate

Bobby reached another nutrition milestone this past Sunday dinner. My husband and I were eating turkey meatloaf with brussel sprouts and butternut squash. Bobby was insisting on his typical macaroni and cheese (whole wheat noodles with chopped spinach mixed in). I, of course was making the macaroni but it was not yet ready. I decided to offer Bobby the turkey meatloaf since he was hungry. I plated it with ketchup and he dipped right in. Phew. Bobby said it was spicy. Hum? I tried it myself and it was oddly spicy tasting with the ketchup. I agreed with him and asked him to try it dry. Amazingly he was willing to try and guess what, he loved it.  He ate an entire slice in addition to his macaroni with cheese and spinach.

Despite having limited family meals due to our crazy city life, we do have them when we can. As evidenced by this experience, family meals are beneficial even if they are not as often as experts recommend. Read my nutrition assistant’s Family Meals blog entry below. Happy Eating!

Family Meals: A Benefit for the Whole Family

By Nutrition Student Katherine Kaczor

From running back and forth to soccer practice, dance recitals, piano lessons, and maybe even back to another soccer practice, it can be difficult for many families to sit down and have a meal together. But could you be doing a disservice to your family by missing out on this mealtime?

The Toddler:

Research indicates that family meals have an impact during all stages of life. For toddlers, it is a time to learn healthy food behaviors. If the parent or other family member eat a balanced, healthy plate, the toddler will be more likely to pick up the behavior as well. However, if family members are consistently saying they don’t like carrots or peas taste gross, the toddler will be more likely to feel the same. Family meals can also help toddlers overcome their picky eating. If the toddler is served a similar meal to the rest of the family, he will be continually exposed to new foods. By repeatedly being offered different foods, the toddler will be more likely to incorporate them into his diet.

The Child:

Family meals have a strong influence on school-aged children as well. Children who have a least three family meals per week are 12% less likely to be overweight, 20% less likely to consume unhealthy foods, and 24% more likely to consume healthy foods, according to one study. Another study found that family meals are protective against obesity in non-Hispanic white and black children, but can promote obesity in Hispanic boys, especially in low-income families. This is likely due to the food served and the cultural differences amongst these families. If the family is sitting down to a meal of fried foods and the children are encouraged to finish their plate and get seconds, weight is likely to increase. Despite this, family meals have the added benefit of providing children with an outlet to discuss their day. It gives them a chance to discuss the art project they worked on in class or the field trip they’re going on next week. This conversation helps build the family relationship. Family meals can also be used to create a sense of responsibility in children. They can be assigned chores such setting the table or washing the dishes. If the child is picky, having him assist with the cooking process can help him feel more connected to the food and consequently more likely to eat it.

The Adolescent:

The most research in regards to family meals looks at its effects on adolescents. Due in part to their increased independence as well as from the constant peer pressure, the eating habits of adolescents tend to be poor, however, those adolescents who regularly dine with their family tend to have better intakes. They are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables and to incorporate dairy into their diet. They are also more likely to eat breakfast. Teenagers also tend to consume fast-food when meals are not provided at home. Additionally, disordered eating habits are significantly lower in adolescent girls who had regular family meals. Research has found that disordered eating habits are seen in 18.1% of girls who had less than two family meals per week, while it was seen in only 8.8% of girls who had more than three family meals per week. However, this was based on the assumption that the families were modeling healthy eating behaviors. If the parents follow strict diets or continually comment on the adolescent’s eating patterns, family meals are likely to have the reverse effect. Family meals have also been linked to a reduced risk for drug and substance abuse in teenage girls; however the effects on existing users are minimal. Overall, meals with your teenager help maintain the family relationship during this time of transition. It helps you keep tabs on them while they experience new independence and learn who they are in the world.

The Parents:

There are also benefits for the parents.  If the parents are being positive role models for their children, their health status will also benefit from family meals. Instead of picking up a cheeseburger and fries on the way home from work, family meals provide the opportunity for a well-balanced dinner, which may help promote health and longevity for themselves.  Whatever makes up your dish, family meals provide a time for family bonding and can help strengthen communication and relationships.

 

Hammons, A., & Fiese, B. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents?. Pediatrics, 127(6), e1565-e1574.

Neumark-Sztainer, D., Wall, M., Story, M., & Fulkerson, J. (2004). Are family meal patterns associated with disordered eating behaviors among adolescents?. The Journal of Adolescent Health: Official Publication of The Society For Adolescent Medicine, 35(5), 350-359.

Rollins, B. Y., Belue, R. Z., & Francis, L. A. (2010). The Beneficial Effect of Family Meals on Obesity Differs by Race, Sex, and Household Education: The National Survey of Children’s Health, 2003-2004. Journal of The American Dietetic Association, 110(9), 1335-1339.

Videon, T., & Manning, C. (2003). Influences on adolescent eating patterns: the importance of family meals. Journal of Adolescent Health, 32(5), 365-373.

White, J., & Halliwell, E. (2011). Family Meal Frequency and Alcohol and Tobacco Use in Adolescence: Testing Reciprocal Effects. Journal of Early Adolescence, 31(5), 735-749.