It’s all in the Family.Diet quality and meal patterns of children and adolescents are key factors in maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. You want these to be full of nutritious foods and healthy habits which help your children grow and develop into happy adults full of vigor and ready to seize the world. Alas, this dream is not becoming fulfilled for many of America’s children. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years and in 2008 more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. So what can you do as a concerned parent? Start by having family meals, and I am not talking microwave zapped foods in front of the television.
A life skill. Cooking meals at home for your family teaches the concept of cooking itself. Understanding the effort that is put forth into cooking a meal is relayed to the child as the child gets to view fresh vegetables, dry pastas and cereals, as well as raw meats and chicken develop into a delicious dish that fills their tummies and fuels their bodies. Children will learn to taste all the flavors, enjoy the food, and understand that meals are not only delicious, but provide them with nourishment. As well as how to cook themselves and maintain this healthy habit as they grow.
You’re in control. Cooking your own foods gives you the opportunity to see and control everything that goes into your dish and ultimately your body. You can learn how to cut saturated fats and grease, find flavor without excess sodium, and choose or sneak in some deliciously wholesome grains or vegetables. At home cooking can cut calories, sodium, and trans fats and saturated fats. Secondly, these foods are fully loaded with higher amounts of important nutrients.
Studies support the benefits. A study published by the Archives of Family Medicine showed an increased frequency of family dinners was also associated with higher intake of fiber, calcium, folate, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E among older children and adolescents. Additionally, a lower glycemic load and lower intake of saturated fat and trans fats was observed in comparison to those who did not consume family meals regularly. The study concluded that dinners enjoyed together as a family led to healthy eating patterns, more fruits and vegetables, less fried food and fewer sugary soft drinks (1).
Another study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (JADA) supported these facts in addition to finding that increased frequency of family meals led to more breakfast meals, which is a meal associated with lower body weight (2). Finally, family meals are correlated to improved psychosocial development and regular eating habits (3) as well as a decrease in dangerous habits including tobacco, alcohol, and such drugs as marijuana and increased cognitive performance and improved grades (4).
Great memories. I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy family meals cooked by mom (and sometimes me) growing up and it has had an impactful and healthy effect on me. Now that I am older I have carried the art of cooking and a love for family meals with me. Now, every time I whip up a meal it not only brings back memories, but continues to create fun times and hearty laughs shared over the dinner table.
Enjoy your family. So sit down to a family meal, make it festive with fall flowers on the table, find delicious recipes or sides made of fresh lean meats, vegetables, and whole grains, make it fun and bring your child or spouse into the kitchen to help you cook while you listen to music, and ultimately enjoy the delicious flavors and nutritious benefits of a home cooked meal as you share fun stories and fond memories with your family.
1.) Gillman M, Rifas-Shiman S, Frazier L, Rockett H, Camargo C, Field A, Berkey C, Colditz G. Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Older Children and Adolescents, Arch Fam Med. 2000; 9:235-240.
2.) Larson N, Neumark-Sztainer D, Hannan P, Story M. Family Meals during Adolescence Are Associated with Higher Diet Quality and Healthful Meal Patterns during Young Adulthood. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007; 107:1502-1510.
3.) Neumark-Sztainer D, Hannan PJ, Story M, Croll J, Perry C. Family Meal Patterns: Associations with socidoemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003; 103:317-322.
4.) Traveras EM, Rifas-Shmin SL, Berkey CS, Rocket HR, Field AE, Frazier AL, Coldits GA, Gillman MW. Family dinner and adolescent overweight. Obes Res. 2005;13:900-906.