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Are your family dinners a laid-back experience or a whirlwind of chaos? Research suggests that making the effort to sit down for a family meal even once or twice a week pays off
Some days are crazy busy, and it’s a challenge for family members to be in the same room at once—let alone sit down to share a meal.
After school can be a blur of extracurricular activities, and parents who work long hours may not get home till after young childrens’ dinner and bedtimes have been and gone.
It’s easy to postpone sitting down to share a family meal, but the benefits to your children make the effort worthwhile.
A new study from the University of Minnesota joins the tottering pile of previous studies showing the benefits of family mealtimes to help kids be smarter, happier, better connected to their parents and less likely to engage in risky behaviour. The study involved nearly 5,000 students in Chicago public schools, surveyed over three school years. The finding? Family meals are an effective means of staying connected with children as they develop into teens.
It’s just one of many benefits linked to family dinners:
• Half the 1,000 teens surveyed by the National Center on Addiction and Drug Abuse at Columbia University thought dinnertime was the best time to talk to their parents about something important. Those teens had stronger connections with their family, more than 80 percent of them preferring dinner with their families to eating alone.
• The conversations and explanations that happen over dinner mean children develop more extensive vocabularies. Columbia University studies found that teens who ate frequent family dinners were 40 percent more likely to get top school marks than teenagers whose families ate separately.
• Children who take part in regular family dinners eat more healthy foods and less junk food, and drink fewer soft drinks. University of Minnesota researchers found that adolescents whose parents made family dinners a high priority and maintained a positive atmosphere at dinnertime were less likely to develop eating disorders, engage in self-induced vomiting, use laxatives, diet pills or diuretics.
• One study found that for girls, eating three to four family meals per week cut the risk of extreme weight control behaviours in half, while families who ate together five or more times a week reduced the risk of eating disorders in their daughters by 66 percent.
• The University of Minnesota research also found that teens who had family dinners five or more times a week were 42 percent less likely to drink alcohol, 59 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes, and 66 percent less likely to try marijuana.
Eat your greens! Here’s 4 smart tricks
1. Give them a veggie first, without offering any other food at the same time. In a new study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers served carrots in varying portion sizes to a group of pre-schoolers. The bigger the portion of carrots, the more the kids ate. They were served lunch ten minutes later and, surprisingly, the children who ate the most carrots went on to eat their usual broccoli serving with lunch—or more!
2. Make them look like French fries. Making your own veggie chips is easy. Slice kumara, zucchini, carrots, beets or turnips into long chip shapes and lightly fry or bake them. Serve with tomato sauce. See here for tips.
3. Eat with them. Little kids want to be just like you. Even if you’re not having dinner with them, resist the temptation to spend their dinnertime doing the dishes or other chores. Sitting with them to chat and snack on some raw veggies helps set a positive example without making a big deal about it.
4. Don’t give up! Kids prefer to eat what is familiar. According to Five Plus a Day, children have to be exposed to a new food seven to ten times before they think of it as familiar.