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The value of a family dinner isn’t exaggerated, according to a new study. It found that children who eat meals with their family benefit from better physical and mental health.
Sharing a family meal has been linked to children having a better diet. Research has also suggested that these meals promote language development in children.
Study follows kids and meals
In the new study, researchers followed a group of about 1,500 children in Canada. They already knew a lot about these kids, so they felt they could determine if family meals were making a difference.
When the kids were age 6, the researchers asked their parents about the family meal environment. They focused on the family’s enjoyment of the meal and if it felt like a chance to talk. Families were also asked if they could confide in each other or if they had bad feelings toward one another.
When the children turned 10, the researchers focused on their well-being. They asked the children, their parents and their teachers about academic success, eating habits, and behavior at home and school.
Benefits of family meals
The results were telling: Having better-quality family meals was linked to better physical fitness in the children. It was also linked to drinking less soda.
Kids who had a higher quality of family meals were less likely to fight, attack others and dominate other children. They were also less likely to be defiant, steal and tell lies.
The study didn’t find a link between family meals and success in reading and math. But the researchers noted that teacher and student relationships, which affect academic success, are often related to the family environment.
Why do family meals have such a positive effect? The researchers said family meals give parents a chance to connect with their children and monitor their activities. Parents can act as role models for healthy eating. And family meals may give kids a sense of belonging, as well as a chance to talk about issues that bother them.
The study was published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.
Bring your family together
The researchers pointed out that family meals aren’t the only characteristic of a good home environment. But it’s an easy place to start to improve a child’s well-being.
Making an effort to share family meals is worth the effort, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says. If you don’t share family meals already, you can get started with one meal a week. Keep the menu simple, and ask your family to help prepare the meal.
To learn more about the positive influence of eating together as a family, you can read this article: “Family meals: A time for health and happiness.”