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The power of family meals


 This blog has been contributed by Meera Srinivasan, our resident expert on health and nutrition.

asparagus-soupBeing a nutritionist I have always paid attention to what my family eats. But until recently, I was not aware that how they eat is equally important. Research has shown that eating together as a family is key to inculcating healthy eating habits in children.

Researchers at Rutgers University have looked at 68 studies that have examined relationship between family meals, eating habits and children’s health. Amazingly all studies pointed to a similar trend – families who had “meals together” during the growing years had children and teens who ate more fruits and vegetables, other nutrient rich foods and less of soft drinks. The research also indicated that they had a lower BMI (body mass index) than kids whose families did not eat together! Of course, this is not a magic bullet but with so many studies confirming this trend it will be good to pay attention to these findings.

So you may wonder about relevance in India – well the situation in urban households is no longer different, with both parents working long hours and juggling work and children’s schedules. Sitting down together for dinner in most homes is becoming increasingly rare and eating together has become a weekend activity and invariably not at home …

Along with healthier eating habits and lower instances of obesity, there are other significant benefits of family meals:

  • Dinner together serves as an anchor for the family, nurtures the sense of belonging. It is a time for everyone to share and reflect about their day
  • Conversations around meal time help increase children’s vocabulary making them better readers.
  • Children actually do better in school/academics!
  • Children become aware of current events and have better social skills. They learn to make conversations and also become good listeners!
  • Teens who eat dinners at home regularly are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs!
  • As mentioned in the January 2013 issue of ParentEdge children learn by observing and experiencing and not by being instructed. If parents have healthy eating habits children tend to have similar eating habits!

How do we make it work?

  • Meal time has to be a priority for everyone – make your family understand and once they start doing it, the benefits will ensure that there is no turning back!
  • If dinner is not possible, explore breakfast and to start, target a minimum of three meals during the week.
  • Make the meals interesting, get the family involved in menu planning and if possible even cooking. Many children these days are showing an interest in cooking and we can be thankful to the Master Chef programmes!
  • Turn off mobiles, television during meals, so children understand you are making meal times a priority.
  • Conversation starters can be as simple as “what was the best part of your day”, “what went well for you today and what did not?” – and before you realize children are talking and telling you things which may be difficult to get out from them otherwise!

At our home we have dinner together and I find this the most gratifying time of the day!

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ParentEdge is a bi-monthly magazine for discerning Indian parents who would like to actively contribute to their children’s education, intellectual enrichment and stimulation. The magazine’s premise is that learning is a continuous process, and needs to happen both in and outside of school; thus parents have an important role to play in shaping their children’s interests and intellect.


8 thoughts on “The power of family meals

  1. Shreeja N (@shreejasp)

    Absolutely and totally agree with you on this! I faced this issue at home. My kid, me and my husband all had different meal times, somehow we just ended up eating food without enjoying the niceties of togetherness and sharing. However, I put my foot down six months back, ever since mealtimes are so much fun. Other than weekends, dinnertime is the only time when we can sit down and eat together n it should not be missed. Loved reading :)

    Reply
  2. G.Venkatesh

    Dear Meera, This a good summary of the “dos”. Kindly reach this out to children via the schools and teachers. Pl make the children believe the truth in family get-together. Almost all the troubles of the modern pressures of social life will be resolved. Thanks. Venkatesh (C/o: Kalpana)

    Reply
  3. Sudha Kumar

    Very relevant post Meera. I wanted to add one point- is it not important to all choose topics of dinner time conversation with care? We must avoid topics that put anyone, especially the children, in spot and also general topics that may be too controversial and lead to polarized views- essentially, take away from a pleasant being together experience. What is your experience?

    Reply
    1. Meera Srinivasan

      Hi Sudha,
      Thanks — our experience — dinner time is when we exchange happenings of the day, talk about an article in the newspaper, or plan what to do over the weekend…I should admit that on rare occasions we have ended up lecturing our daughter – but my husband and I are conscious about this and if one of us starts a lecture — the other tactfully steers the conversation away, so meal time still remains happy :-)

      Reply
    2. Meera Srinivasan

      Thanks sudha, a very relevant comment – our conversations mainly revolve around what happened during the day, what to do over the weekend, an interesting article in the paper etc…but during some meals we have had arguments, but in my opinion if the child is above 10 years, arguments will help children understand there can be a difference in opinion. But we should not use this forum to lecture the child, my husband and I are conscious about this and if one of us starts a lecture the other tactfully steers the conversation away – so meal times remain happy times!!

      Reply

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