by the Editor Helping your child succeed in school may be as easy as sitting down for a family meal. Studies suggest that family meals play a key role in raising high-achieving, healthy and well-adjusted children.
"From better grades to improved health, nutrition and social skills, family meals help children succeed in school and life," said Tammy Anderson-Wise, Director of Program Services at Dairy Council of California. "When families eat together and talk with children from a young age, they set a pattern for healthy habits with benefits that last a lifetime."
A large body of research also supports the link between family meals and nutrition.
Frequent family meals are linked with being successful in school. A University of Illinois study found that children ages 7 – 11 who did well in school and on achievement tests generally spent large amounts of time eating meals with their families.
Research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) also found that teens who ate with their families most often were more likely to get As and Bs in their classes. The 2011 study “reinforces the importance of frequent family dinners,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia's Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “Parental engagement in children’s lives is key to raising healthy, drug-free kids and one of the simplest acts of parental engagement is sitting down to the family dinner. Seventeen years of surveying teens has taught us that the more often children have dinner with their families the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.”
This year’s report examined the quality of family relationships between a child and his or her parents and a child and their sibling(s) and found that teens who report having close family relationships are less likely to smoke, drink or use marijuana.
The family dinners report found that teens having frequent family dinners are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their family members. Compared to teens having infrequent family dinners, teens having frequent family dinners are:
• One-and-a-half times likelier to report having an excellent relationship with their mother;
• More than twice as likely to report having an excellent relationship with their father; and
• Almost twice as likely to report having an excellent relationship with their sibling(s).
A Harvard University study published in the Archives of Family Medicine found that families who ate together almost every day generally consumed more important nutrients like calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6 and B12, C and E, and less overall fat than families who rarely ate together. During adolescence, family meals also contribute to higher daily intakes of fruit, vegetables, calcium and other important nutrients, and lower intakes of soft drinks.
New research published in the journal Pediatrics also supports this… Eating meals with their families helps keep kids slimmer and healthier. “While we know it can be challenging for today’s busy family to find time to make dinner and get every one together to eat, this study shows that doing so even just three times a week can be beneficial,” said Timothy S. Yeh, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
The study reports that those who ate three or more meals a week with their families were less likely to be overweight, less likely to eat sweets, fried foods, soft drinks, and other unhealthy foods and less likely to engage in "disordered eating" behaviors aimed at losing weight (such as binge-eating, purging, taking diet pills or laxatives, vomiting, skipping meals or smoking).
The benefits of family meals extend beyond nutrition and academic achievement. Mealtime conversation promotes positive self-esteem in children and brings the family together. Recent research shows that children whose parents shared ideas and talked to them often were about 40 percent less likely to bully other children6. Family meals also provide an opportunity for parents to engage children in the planning, preparation and enjoyment of food, which creates a lasting and positive relationship with food.
"Family meals don’t have to be elaborate or time consuming to help your child succeed," adds Anderson-Wise. To capitalize on the link between family meals and successful children during back-to-school time, parents can visit MealsMatter.org, a free family nutrition and meal-planning website.
To help your child succeed in school and life with healthy family meals, Anderson-Wise offers the following tips:
• Make time for family meals by setting aside as many times a week to eat together as possible.
• Browse online recipe planners and menus for simple-to-prepare recipes.
• Include foods from all the food groups—milk, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats—in your family meals, and try new foods together.
• During family meal time, adults and children should try to avoid mobile phones and music devices and turn off the television.
• Use conversation starters and active listening skills to get children talking. Ask about what they are learning in school or about friends they’ve made.
“Although having dinner is the easiest way to create routine opportunities for engagement and communication, dinner isn’t the only time parents can engage with their children,” said Kathleen Ferrigno, CASA Columbia’s Director of Marketing who directs the Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™ initiative.
“If your schedule can’t be rearranged to include family dinners, engage in other kinds of activities with your children so that you are a reliable, involved, and interested presence in their lives. Remember the magic that happens over family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the communication and conversations around it. Creating opportunities to connect is what’s important.”
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