MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis - Food and Fitness


Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children


Family enjoying meal together at homeEveryone benefits from family meals

Adapted from articles written by Lynda Johnson & Tammy Roberts, Nutrition and Health Education Specialists, University of Missouri Extension


Following more than 10 years of research, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University consistently found that kids who eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs.
Lynda Johnson, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist, said family meals are not only a simple, effective tool to help prevent substance abuse in kids, but are also good for children’s nutrition.
“Many child experts indicate that regular family meals are one of the best ways to help children and teens be fit, healthy and ready to succeed,” said Johnson. “Young people who spend more time eating and talking with their families are more likely to do well in school, more likely to have a healthy weight and get the nutrition they need. They are less likely to use drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and less likely to develop eating disorders. They are also less likely to have sex, get into fights and have thoughts of suicide.”
Family mealtime helps foster a sense of connectedness for children and an opportunity to focus on family communication. Positive conversations during meals are ideal for strengthening family relationships, sharing family values and helping parents understand the challenges that children face today.
Johnson promotes family meals as both an opportunity for family interactions, but also the ideal setting to teach children the benefits of healthy eating. She suggests using mealtimes to show kids how to eat slowly and enjoy their food and to talk about how eating healthy foods helps people grow strong and have energy.
In 2001, CASA launched the annual Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children to remind parents that frequent family dinners make a difference. Family Day focuses attention on the importance of eating and talking together at mealtime and encourages family meals “even if you aren’t a great cook.” The focus should be on the time interacting together, not on creating an elaborate meal. The meal can be as simple as ordering a pizza or picking up a rotisserie chicken, cooking a vegetable and preparing a salad.


Some quick-to-fix ideas from USDA’s Nibbles For Health include adding canned or frozen vegetables to tomato or chicken soup for a quick main dish. Mix chopped lean ham or deli meat and cooked vegetables with macaroni and cheese. Or, serve chili over a baked potato or rice as a main course.
Johnson said that planning and cooking meals together offers many of the same benefits as eating together. Children who help prepare the meal are much more likely to consume it. Involve children in making food decisions especially when it comes to vegetables, like having them choose between broccoli or carrots, for example. Assign each family member a task — making the salad, setting the table, preparing the beverages or slicing fruit for dessert.


Busy families can start simple and schedule one or two meals a week together. Once a routine is established, the family can gradually increase the number of meals to as many as possible.


University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri

Last update: Wednesday, September 30, 2015