Healthy Habits

Family Meals: How Eating Together Boosts Health

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By Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN

With today’s hectic schedules, getting the entire family together to eat a meal can feel like a challenge. But research shows that prioritizing family meals has a big payoff.

Eating family meals not only encourages solid nutrition, it also supports relationships. In fact, studies show that when families dine together, they do better in every aspect of life from nutrition to academic and on-the-job performance.

Family Meal Magic

There are plenty of reasons why family meals should rise to the top of the priority list at least a few times each week. Among the perks:

  1. Nutrition. Family meals tend to include more fruits and vegetables and fewer fried foods than meals eaten solo. Plus, research suggests that eating as a family helps kids of all ages adopt healthful eating habits. It might even keep excess pounds at bay.
  1. Fewer risky behaviors. Adolescents and teens who eat with their families may be less likely to use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teens who ate fewer than 3 meals per week with their family were 3.5 times more likely to abuse drugs, 2.5 times more likely to smoke and 1.5 times more likely to drink alcohol than their peers who enjoyed more family meals each week. It may also curb disordered eating behaviors such as binging, purging and excessive or unnecessary dieting.
  1. Cost. On average, people spend twice as much money on food when they eat outside the home (about $8 per meal, on average compared to $4 with a home-prepared meal).
  1. Communication. Parents and kids alike can benefit from uninterrupted time at the dining table. In addition to feeling more connected to their kids, parents can also use family meals as an opportunity to learn more about what makes their children tick – and spot potential problems before they blow up.
  1. Stress Relief. While pulling together a meal can be stressful, studies show that when parents finally do sit down to the table, they feel less stress. What’s more, evidence suggests that children who communicate with their parents during family meals – around all sorts of topics – show fewer signs of depression and anxiety.

Family Meal How-To-Guide

You don’t have to whip up an elaborate four-course dinner every night and that role does not need to fall to just one person. Instead, come up with simple meals you can pull together quickly. Pick up a rotisserie chicken and a bagged salad. Brown ground turkey, heat up black beans and crisp some tortillas in the oven for an easy take on Taco Tuesday. Or, make breakfast for dinner.

Related Topic: Busy Weeknight Meals Made Easy

The goal: Squeeze in distraction-free family dining wherever you can. During the week, school activities and sports can make prepping dinner – even a simple one – a challenge. So, focus on breakfasts. On weekends, make time to linger over a meal and recruit your kids to help with the cooking—and the cleaning, too.

The key is making family meals a priority – and that means phones, computers and other devices do not come to the table with you. Can’t manage three or more family meals each week? Start with one and build from there.

To learn how to get healthy meals on the table fast with our healthy recipe videos. You can also read more nutrition and fitness advice in our EatWell and MoveWell sections, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.

Written By:

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, is director of the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Earning a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in exercise science from Oakland University (OU), Beth chose her career path because she was always intrigued by the blending of art and science to positively impact health. She enjoys communicating with people about healthy living and eating and was a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for 9 years. Beth was named as Outstanding Dietitian of the Year by the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2012 and served as their president in 2015-2016. If she could spend a week anywhere in the world, she would visit the Lake Michigan side of the Leelanau peninsula.

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