A recent meta-analysis at Rutgers University reviewed 68 studies that looked at the connection between families eating together and childhood obesity rates.
Based on these previously published studies, researchers asked whether scientific evidence supports the idea that eating together more often can reduce overweight and obesity in kids.
Just as you probably concluded, kids who more frequently dined at McDonald’s with peers or devoured microwave-heated Hot Pockets were more likely to struggle with weight and not get important nutrients compared to those who regularly dined at home with their families.
Family dinners also meant these kids ate more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and nutrient-rich foods.
Researchers presented their findings in a user-friendly graphic they hope will simplify the dining process, but expressed concern that because of time restraints, parents won’t get this important message.
I also worry parents will dismiss these studies – or the sound-bite, poorly summarized media clips you more likely hear – as unrealistic for their ultra-fast paced lives.
I get it. Couple a horrible economy with both parents working long hours and kids having crazy schedules of their own with extracurricular activities. Preparing dinner and gathering the family to eat can become a Herculean task or a quaint reminder of a bygone era.
Having dinner together isn’t easy, but it’s certainly worth the time and effort that will repay dividends for your kids down the road. If nothing else, you’ll teach them good eating habits they can adapt for life.
Even dining together one or two times a week can bring your family together, help you slow down, and even reduce your kids’ risk for obesity.
I want to offer seven strategies to make dining together easier and more enjoyable:
- If dinner doesn’t work, try breakfast or brunch. The important thing is that you’re together and enjoying a healthy meal together. Easy suggestions for breakfast or brunch include omelets and crustless quiche.
- Prepare foods ahead of time. You’re not going to have hours to prep, so do as much as you can ahead of time. For instance, chop broccoli and pre-season chicken breasts the night before.
- Involve your kids. Let them chop, slice, or otherwise prepare food. You can also ask them to set the table. It will help them feel more invested in the meal and take some of the burden off you.
- Turn off other distractions and be present. Have a no-cell-phone rule at the table. Same deal with newspapers, iPads, and any other distractions. You’re there to enjoy each other’s company and the food.
- Make it mandatory and schedule the time. Just like you would schedule a meeting for work or soccer practice for your kids, reserve an hour simply to eat together. Make dinner a “must attend” priority.
- Make favorite meals. You can always make healthier versions of your kids’ favorites. For instance, try almond sliver-crusted chicken strips with sweet potato fries, spaghetti squash with pesto, or grass-fed beef with faux-tatoes.
- Do the best you can. The important thing is ultimately that you’re together and enjoying healthy food, even if that means you occasionally have to stop by Whole Foods for a rotisserie chicken and some pre-cooked vegetables.