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What does family dinner look like at your house? How often does your family eat together each week? Research shows many values for families that have frequent family mealtimes such as healthful eating habits and greater emotional well-being.

What Makes a Family Mealtime?

A 2019 observational study (https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(19)30029-2/fulltext) defined a family meal as one that met these four conditions:

1. The family eats the meal at a table

2. The meal is served family style

3. The television (TV) is off

4. The parent(s) dine with the children

Eating at a table ensures all family members are present and focused on each other. Family style service allows children to serve themselves and is believed to improve the child’s ability to follow their inner fullness cues.

The scholars found that each night the TV was on during dinner, intake of fruits and veggies decreased. Support from parents seems to play a large role in a child’s ability to choose healthful foods to consume at meal times.

The Benefits of Family Mealtime

While values linked to food may seem innate there are a stunning number of non-food benefits that can occur when family mealtime happens more times per week. Common food related wins can include improved total diet quality and weight status. Clear links have shown increased food intake of vegetables, calcium-rich foods, fiber and quite a few vitamins and minerals when family meal time is a main concern. Results of one research study found that children who were involved in five family meals per week had lower total intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks and greater fruit and veggie intake.

Some non-food benefits found in “The Surprising Benefits of the Family Meal. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 2011, are as follows:

• Frequent family mealtimes are linked with greater mental growth and success in school from early childhood through the teen years.

• Regular family meals promote closeness and overall emotional well-being of all members.

• Teens who ate at least five family meals per week stated they felt less stress and tension among family members and were more likely to approach their parent with a severe problem.

• Teens who stated they had fewer family mealtimes are three times more likely to smoke and are two and a half times more likely to drink.

• Parents viewed themselves as being less successful at work when their work schedule got in the way of family mealtime.

Helpful tips for making family mealtime a reality

1. Aim for at least 3-4 family meals per week.

2. Plan to include healthy foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, etc.) in your meals.

3. Be clever with time and place (e.g., Saturday morning breakfast, picnic before sports practice).

4. Make your mealtime a distraction-free zone and turn off all electronics (phone, TV, etc.).

5. Urge all members to help in meal planning and cooking.

6. Avoid dinner talk that may provoke conflict (find a different time to discuss complex subjects).

7. Strive to make meals fun!

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