Recently, I was honored to speak at the Texas PTA Leadership Conference in Austin, TX on the importance of family mealtimes. The benefits of family meals go far beyond nutrition. Did you know that young people who reported eating dinner with their family 5 or more times per week were much likelier to report receiving either all A’s or mostly A’s and B’s in school? Other key items from research include:
• Mealtime conversations help children acquire and improve the language skills that are critical for school success. Children learn new vocabulary, sentence structure, and how to share their point of view with other people.
The benefits of family meals go beyond nutrition.
• Conversations at the family table taught children more vocabulary than they learned from their parents reading books to them.
• Elementary school children who did well in class and on achievement tests were those who generally spent larger amounts of time eating meals with their families.
• Eating meals with their family was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether they lived with one or both parents.
• The more often families eat together the less likely teens are to smoke cigarettes, use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, become depressed, develop eating disorders, or get pregnant.
We can’t deny the family mealtime benefits on your child’s current and future nutrition. They include:
• More likely to have a healthy weight
• Less likely to become or stay overweight
• Less likely to develop an eating disorder
• Family meals during adolescence had a lasting positive influence on the quality of their diets and meal patterns, such as eating breakfast. In other words, having family meals with your teenagers improves their chances of eating right in their 20’s.
• Young people who eat more often with their families have higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy foods.
• For teens, more regular family meals mean fewer fried foods and soft drinks. These adolescents also have higher intakes of key nutrients like calcium, iron, vitamins A, B6, C, E, and folate, as well as fiber.
Keeping It Simple
The great thing to know is that the meal does not need to be complicated to have all of these great benefits. If you are super strapped for time, these ideas don’t even need a recipe:
• Flank steak with tossed salad and frozen vegetables
• Pasta with frozen or canned shrimp, sautéed in olive oil with onion and garlic
• Cheese omelet with tossed salad
• Tuna salad in a whole wheat wrap made with reduced-fat mayonnaise
• Black beans and brown or wild rice with frozen veggies
• Spinach salad with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, and slivered almonds
• Peanut butter and banana sandwich on 100% whole-wheat bread
• Hamburgers (made with lean ground beef) on whole-grain buns, with boiled potatoes and frozen vegetables
Add some skim/1% milk as a beverage, add quick veggies as needed and serve fresh fruit as a dessert – and you have a very well-rounded stress-free meal. Remember, eliminate all distractions and make all mealtime discussions pleasant and friendly. Involve your kids in the recipe selection, shopping and preparation for maximum impact. And if you are not eating at least 5 meals as a family, consider adding one per week. Dinner is a great time, but breakfasts and lunches work as well.
Eating together is one of the best things we can do as a family to enrich the quality of our children’s lives. Commit today to make family meals a priority in your home and watch all the great things that will follow.
Angela Lemond is a registered and licensed dietitian with a private practice in Plano, Texas. Her specialty areas are pediatrics and family nutrition. Angela loves promoting family dinners, as she has seen the benefits firsthand in her family with her husband and two children. Find out more about Angela visit www.angelalemond.com or follow her blog at MommyDietitian.com.