Sharing Some Family Table Time

by Kaitlin Welles

One of the best things about the holidays is coming together with family and friends to celebrate over a meal. Food does more than just nourish our bodies, it is an important part of our social lives as well. We turn eating into a social experience when we sit down together to interact and share stories from our day, all the while building strong family relationships. We often come together around the table during the holidays, but why not make this an everyday tradition? Taking the time to sit-down for a meal is often put on the backburner when life gets busy and overscheduled. The importance however of this seemingly simple act should not be overlooked. Research has shown that children and adolescents who frequently partake in family meals have higher dietary intakes of:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Key nutrients such as fiber, calcium, and iron

As well as lower intakes of soft drinks and saturated fat.

Family meals also offer the opportunity to expose children to healthful food choices and for parents to model healthy eating behaviors. There are proven social benefits to this eating style as well. Studies show that young people who frequently partake in family meals have a lower risk of developing disordered eating behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, and even depression later in life.

When the simple act of eating together can have such a positive influence on your family, why not make it part of your New Year’s resolution this year? Or better yet, take it a step further and involve kids in the cooking/preparing of the meal. Remember that a “meal” does not have to be a formal or elaborate event. Kidseatright.org (an extension of the American Dietetic Association) offers these tips to make meals as simple and enjoyable as possible:

  • Set a regular family mealtime. Pick a time together.
  • Enjoy more table time, less cooking time. Make quick, simple meals (even a sandwich, fruit and milk) to give more table time together.
  • Turn off the TV. Turn on the phone answering machine. Focus mealtime on family talk.
  • Keep table talk positive. Everyone gets to talk and to listen. Sitting around a table, not side-by-side at a counter, helps.
  • Keep table time realistic – not so long that the pleasure goes away.

So whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a sit-down snack, take the time this year to enjoy good food and company around your family’s table and make eating together a priority!

For more information and tips on eating as a family, visit www. Kidseatright.org or check out a new book by Laurie David entitled, “The Family Dinner”.

References:
Larson, N., Nelson, M., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., and Hannan, P. “Making Time for Meals: Meal Structure and Associations with Dietary Intake in Young Adults”. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009; 109:72-79.
Larson, N., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P., and Story, M. “Family Meals during Adolescence Are Associated with Higher Diet Quality and Healthful Meal Patterns during Young Adulthood”. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2007; 107:1502-1510.