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