Life Times Newsletter

Summer 2006
Vol. 8, No. 3

Family meals provide more than food for children and parents

Mary Schroepfer, MED
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist

When families eat together, children benefit in more ways than just providing nourishment for their bodies.

Family meals provide stability and routine in childrenís hectic lives. They can bring families closer together, teach children healthy eating habits and improve the diet quality of the whole family. Research shows that families who eat together consume more fruit, vegetables and fiber and less saturated fat, soda and fried foods.

To model good eating habits,
parents should eat and prepare food with the children on a regular basis. Family meals are the ideal opportunity to demonstrate healthy eating behaviors and to reinforce good habits. Pleasant memories of making meals and sharing them at home are the start of family traditions that children will carry through life.

When adults and children eat
together, children do better in school; have fewer behavior problems; develop the feeling of being needed and of belonging; learn
table manners, social skills, family values, a sense of community and basic cooking skills; and understand family values and traditions.

When family meal times are a custom, teenagers are less apt to use alcohol or drugs. Children and teens say they like having time to talk to the adults in their lives. Communication improves between children and adults. Food and meals also provide the opportunity to
create family traditions.

Try these easy tips to make family meals a pleasant part your familyís day:

  • Set a regular family mealtime and make it a priority in your day. Show your children that family meals are an important family time by turning off the TV and not answering the phone during meals.
  • Be creative and flexible about when and where you eat. Family meals can be shared at home, at a restaurant, in a park, or near the playing field.
  • Eat with your children whenever possible, even if it isnít every day. Aim for four or more meals a week.
  • Eat around a table. It is easier to talk when you can see each other.
  • Enjoy conversation. Include all members of the family, and try to avoid nagging and complaining. Keep a sense of humor and laugh a lot.
  • Actively involve children in the meal. Cook, shop, and grow veggies together. Helping with family meals makes children feel important. Ask your children to help set and clear the table, fold napkins, help with meal preparation, or plan menus.
  • Parents decide what will be eaten and when it will be eaten. Parents have the opportunity to offer healthy food for meals and snacks.

    Children decide how much food to eat and whether to eat or not. Donít worry if a child does not eat well at a meal. If a child is not snacking, he/she eat if hungry. Have the child sit at the table anyway to show mealtimes are important to the family.

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    University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller