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What are the benefits of families eating together?
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Although it may seem a simple, old-fashioned activity, research shows that taking time for family meals has many hidden benefits. Both nutritionists and family life professionals tell us that when a family eats together more than four times a week, they reap the following benefits:
- More nutritious meals and knowledge of basic cooking skills
- Opportunities to practice social skills and table manners
- Improved family communication
- A greater sense of community and family values
- Stronger family traditions
In addition, children who dine regularly at home:
- Are less likely to smoke, use drugs or alcohol
- Perform better in school
- Have a lower rate of teen pregnancy
- Are less likely to develop weight problems
Making time to eat together in our fast-paced world takes effort and is not something that happens by chance. In addition to arranging when everyone can gather at the table, each family member must do more to make the most of mealtime. Consider these tips.
- Take time to listen to family members’ thoughts and feelings. Don’t just discuss what happened during the day. An occasional conversation starter may be needed.
- Allow every member of the family to contribute to the conversation and keep the conversation polite. The dinner table is not the place for conflict or discipline.
- Tune out the television, radio, phone and other distractions and tune into each other. Research indicates that if meals are eaten with the television on, many of the positive benefits are lost. An increase in obesity is also common.
- Get family members involved in meals. Each member can participate in planning meals, helping with grocery shopping, setting the table, chopping vegetables or doing dishes.
- Remember that parents serve as role models for healthy eating.
- Research shows that the shape of a dinner table impacts family interaction. A round or oval table has no boundaries and increases family interaction
- Check your schedules often and make family meals a priority. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner or food eaten at home or in a restaurant, the key is spending time together.
- Start the pattern of family dinners when children are young so it becomes a habit.
If you think you are too busy to eat together as a family, think again. Research shows there are too many benefits not to.
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