It’s not always easy with everyone’s schedule, but eating together may be one of the healthiest things you do as a family.

The importance of family meals

Family Dinner

End-of-the-day family meals are important. It’s not always easy with everyone’s schedule to fit them in, but eating together may be one of the healthiest things you do as a family. A recent study from the University of Minnesota shed light on the protective nature of family meals.

Researchers found that the average family meal was 20 minutes in length, 83 percent had at least one parent there, 50 percent ate in the kitchen or dining room and 70 percent ate the meal family style.

Note: 35 percent had the TV on during the family meal.

From this family meal study, meals featured a meat, and had several sides: starch (rice, pasta, potato, etc.) and bread, 75 percent served a vegetable and 60 percent served either milk or water for beverages.                                    

From this family meal study, healthy family meals included good communication among family members with face-to-face interaction. There were meal time rules and boundaries for behavior. This is where kids learn table manners (please and thank you), improve listening skills and help with setting the table and cleaning up. Gosh, family time sure is great!

The bottom line in this study: in those families where there was parent-child interaction, good communication and mealtime boundaries, the kids had a lower BMI or weight, and they ate more vegetables. These positive results were not based on the complexity of menus or dishes served. The important part is that they were sitting together with face-to-face time, and interacting. And you can do that over grilled cheese sandwiches and a bowl of soup, or a pizza and side salad.

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years, and currently works at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.