October is Eat Better, Eat Together Month and the perfect time to make family meals a priority. Research has shown that eating more meals together has a positive effect on both the nutrition and emotional well-being of the entire family.
- Healthy Eating Behaviors are Encouraged. Findings from a decade of research on family meals as part of Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) indicate that girls eating 3 or more family meals a week engaged in half as many extreme weight-control behaviors, including diet pills and self-induced vomiting. These effects remained strong over time. Even after 5 years, family meals maintained a protective effect against disordered eating behaviors.
- Better Dietary Intake. Findings from Project EAT also found that 3 or more family meals each week was related to higher intakes of vegetables, calcium-rich foods, fiber and lower intakes of soft drinks and fried foods. The youth in this study maintained their healthy eating habits as they entered young-adulthood as well as their desire to share meals with other people. To reap the most benefits, make sure your mealtimes are free from distractions like the T.V., tablets and video games. Watching television which eating was actually associated with poorer eating habits.
- Emotional Well-Being. Nightly dinners are a great way to debrief the day, share mini successes and stay engaged in each other’s lives. Taking an hour to unplug and connect not only strengthens family bonds but also improves the emotional well-being of youth. Family meals are associated with better self-esteem, fewer depressive symptoms and substance use- things many parents worry about. These positive outcomes go far beyond overall family functioning.
Some studies have shown that dinner conversations are a potent vocabulary-booster and can help build resilience. It’s a good idea to keep conversations pleasant and avoid unnecessary battles- everyone eats better when relaxed.
Do your conversations seem to hit a roadblock? Try some of these conversation starters.
- What is one way you helped someone today?
- What was the best thing about your day or week?
- If you had one super power, what would it be and why?
- What is your favorite thing to do as a family?
- If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?
By keeping the flow of communication open you’ll build trust, accountability, healthy habits, and uncover real issues to get behind as a family.
Take the time this October to start a tradition of eating together and eating better.
For more information on Project EAT, fun family meal activities and a recording of today’s episode, visit WVIK.org/wellness.