Whether it is holiday brunch, a five course sit down dinner, or a leftovers feast, family meals are a trademark of the holiday season. While this may be the most indulgent time of the year, the act of eating with others may actually be good for your health. A recent study followed a diverse group of about 2,000 teens for 10 years, discovering frequency of family meals during adolescence significantly correlated with reduced odds of becoming overweight or obese in young adulthood compared with never eating family meals growing up. This is not the first study of its kind.
Researchers from Cornell University have looked beyond the foods on the table to other mealtime factors that might influence BMI. In a small study, they found eating at a kitchen or dining room table and remaining at the table until everyone has finished are behaviors related to lower BMIs in both parents and children. Conversely, eating with the TV on and away from the table were rituals related to higher BMIs. For parents, BMI was lower for those who had meaningful talks with their children about their days. Other research has indicated associations between positive interpersonal and food dynamics at family meals and reduced risk of childhood overweight and obesity. Habits included positive reinforcement and communication regarding both personal life and the food on the table. A review last year concluded that communal meals, whether they are amongst family, friends, youth or adults, are associated with better dietary intake throughout life.
All findings point to the significance of frequent family meals: families that eat together, stay healthy together. And they also stay happy together! Over ten years ago we reported that family meal time is linked to lower risk of depression in children. Use the holiday season to reconnect and get back on track if family meal time has erased itself from your agenda. Though schedules may be hectic, try designating at least two days a week to family meal time at a table with the TV off. If weeknights are packed, try a family breakfast or a weekend lunch.
Interestingly, research indicates that most children and adults do not meet recommended intakes of healthful foods, such as fruits and vegetables, regardless of how often they share meals. Once you establish mealtime rituals, kick your habits up a notch by incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your meals. Our Vegetable Lasagna makes for a warm and comforting nutritious supper the whole family will enjoy.
Published December 1, 2014