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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children


Everyone benefits from family meals

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


One of the best pieces of advice we can offer families these days is to make sure you eat together as a family most nights of the week. Eating together as a family provides a variety of positive benefits for all family members.


Parents want the very best for their children. Parents who regularly eat with their children can rest assured that they will help their children develop lifelong healthful eating habits.

According to the American Dietetic Association’s fact sheet Making the Most of Family Mealtime, children who regularly eat meals with their family eat more fruits and vegetables and less fried food, saturated fat, and soda than children who do not. They also have higher intake of calcium, iron, fiber and vitamins. All of these nutrients are important for the growth and development of children.


A University of Illinois study of 7-11 year old children found that children who did well in school and on achievement tests regularly ate meals with their families. A study conducted at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education found that young children who regularly participated in family meals had increased vocabulary. Increased vocabulary helps with reading skills.


The members of the family that often miss meals are the members that reap some of the most profound benefits. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that teens who eat dinner with their parents six or seven times per week are less likely to smoke cigarettes or marijuana and are less likely to consume alcohol. They are also less likely to have sex, get into fights and have thoughts of suicide. A study at the University of Minnesota found that girls who participate regularly in family meals are less likely to develop eating disorders.


How do you make family meals happen with the busy lifestyle of your family? One important thing to do is plan ahead for family meals. Cook extra food on the weekend or whenever you get a little bit of extra time. Make an extra casserole and freeze it for a quick meal later. Try to do some of the meal tasks ahead of time. You can cut up fruits or vegetables in the morning or the night before to save that step later. You can also cook pasta or taco meat ahead of time and then warm quickly later.


Remember that meals don’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple! 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. Remember to involve your children in the preparation process. Children who help prepare the meal are much more likely to consume it.



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Last update: Monday, February 22, 2010