Family Meals Critical to a Child’s Health

HealthDay News is reporting (and is one of the only news outlets doing so) a new study showing that eating meals together as a family can reduce a teen girl’s risk of turning to alcohol or drugs.

My Take?

In the study, if the family ate at least five meals a week together, the teen girls were much less likely to drink alcohol, or smoke marijuana or cigarettes five years later. The same effect wasn’t seen for boys in this study, although the researchers could not say why.

However, many other studies show that family meals have a dramatic effect on boys and girls. Here’s some information from my books The Highly Healthy ChildGod’s Design for the Highly Health Child and God’s Design for the Highly Health Teen.

The Family that Dines Together … Connects 

Experts tell us that making family meals a priority is more than worth the effort when our children are in their teen years. 

The idea of families sitting down around a dinner table to share meals seems quaint—something out of an Ozzie and Harriet rerun on Nick at Night. Yet a number of studies report that shared dinner meals are a major indicator of healthy development for children and teens. 

Spending quality mealtimes together not only can make your teens smarter; it can also contribute to their emotional and spiritual growth. Real bonding happens in those moments when you’re together, sharing the details of your day. 

Barb and I considered it vitally important for our family to sit down at the table for breakfast and supper as often as possible. 

It was a time to find out what everyone was going to do, or had done, that day, as well as a time for Barb and me to share our values with Kate and Scott. 

It wasn’t always easy to eat together. 

Because of our different schedules, there were weeks when we’d eat only one or two dinners together, but we worked hard to be at the table together five times a week. 

By starting our family dining routine when our children were young, it was easier to stick to it as they grew older and busier. 

Kate and Scott looked forward to our family mealtimes as much as we did. They knew they were being given the full attention of a mom and dad who were ready to listen and in a mood to discuss whatever they wanted to talk about. 

Experts tell us that making family meals a priority is more than worth the effort. 

A study published in the American Psychological Association newsletter found that teenagers who ate with their families five times or more a week were less likely to do drugs or be depressed, were more motivated at school, and had better peer relationships.

A survey of National Merit Scholars from the past twenty years found that, without exception, these amazing students came from families who ate together three or more nights a week.

Not only are family meals associated with smarter children; spending quality meal time together contributes to their emotional and spiritual growth. It’s when you’re together, sharing the details of your day, that real bonding happens. 

Children also tend to eat better when Mom or Dad is cooking and serving the food. 

Left to their own devices, teens would subsist on a diet of frozen pizza or microwaved chicken fingers. Yet, experts tell us that making family meals a priority is well worth the effort. A Harvard Medical School study of 16,000 children found that those who ate dinner more often with their parents had better diets.

There’s no doubt the sacrosanct “Dinner Hour” is on the skids. Sure, it’s sometimes impossible for everyone to eat together due to work and after- school sports schedules. The rising ranks of moms employed outside the home has greatly curtailed their enthusiasm for cooking a delicious meal. Yet eating together has a remarkable impact on the family. 

Of all the interventions you could pick to reduce risky behavior among teens, eating as a family is right up there. It’s associated with a whole slew of positive things—and the more a family is eating together, the more positive the outcome. 

Not only can family meals make your teens smarter, but spending quality mealtimes together contributes to their emotional and spiritual growth. 

I think the healthiest thing that happens during family mealtimes is communication. 

I loved hearing Kate and Scott ramble on about how their day went. Some of our funniest and most precious moments as a family took place around a dinner table, which is why I encourage you to make dinner together a priority—even if you have to wait until 8:00 p.m. for one of your teens to get home from football practice. (Those who are hungry can eat a healthy snack to tide them over.) 

Great family meals don’t just happen by accident. 

The following tried-and-true guidelines from the Larimore home will help create mealtimes everyone will cherish. 

❖ Prepare the meal together. So few parents ask their teens to help out in the kitchen—and then we’re surprised when they leave for college and don’t even know how to boil water! Barb asked Kate and Scott to peel potatoes and carrots and to prepare salads. We learned something interesting in the process: kids involved in the cooking are more likely to eat the results! 

❖ Leave the television off during meals. Our family had fallen into the bad habit of eating dinner while watching the news or some silly program. The TV is a strong competitor—you can’t talk to each other, and when you’re not talking to each other, you’re not interacting as a family. 

❖ Let the phone ring. Let the answering machine record a message. 

❖ Resist the urge to go into lecture mode during mealtimes. Make mealtimes a memory, not a drudgery. Sure, you can impart wisdom in your conversing, but a family meal isn’t the time to harp on what your teens are doing wrong. Keep positive communication flowing. 

❖ Let your teens help in the cleanup. It rarely takes more than fifteen or twenty minutes to wash the dishes and scrub the pots and pans—even less if you have a dishwasher. It’s a great habit to instill while your teens are still at home and a wonderful family activity. 

 

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