Getting the family to sit at the dinner table, at the same time, is a challenge. But it could be key to heading off problems such as eating disorders, obesity, and inadequate nutrition in the teenage years.
Family meals promote healthy eating
A team from the University of Illinois found that teens who eat at least five meals a week with their families are 35 per cent less likely to engage in disordered eating than teenagers who don’t. The researchers defined disordered eating as binging and purging, taking diet pills, self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, eating very little, skipping meals, and/or smoking cigarettes to lose weight.
“For children and adolescents with disordered eating, mealtime provides a setting in which parents can recognise early signs and take steps to prevent detrimental patterns from turning into full-blowing eating disorders,” said Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Barbara Fiese.
“Teens who eat at least five meals a week with their families are 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating”
Children who ate at least three family meals a week were also 12 per cent less likely to be overweight than those who ate with their families less often. And they were 24 per cent more likely to eat healthy foods and have healthy eating habits than those who didn’t share three meals with their families.
Teens want family dinners too
The researchers say that families who share meals together are likely to be more connected, which may encourage teenagers to talk within their families about unhealthy behaviors they’ve slipped into and other problems they’re experiencing.
“If you look at national surveys, the frequency of shared mealtimes does begin to drop off in the teen years, but a lot of that is due to competing demands on teenagers’ time due to after-school activities, jobs, and social life, and not for lack of interest,” said Professor Fiese.
Despite any grumblings you may hear from your teenager about sitting down together as a family, Professor Fiese says research on adolescent development indicates that teens want to stay connected with their parents.
“If their parents don’t totally control the conversation, and if teens can contribute to family interaction, they are likely to welcome participating”
“Family meals give them a place where they can go regularly to check in with their parents and express themselves freely,” she said.
“If family meals are not a forced activity, if parents don’t totally control the conversation, and if teens can contribute to family interaction and feel like they’re benefiting from it, older kids are likely to welcome participating.”
The results of the study were published in the Pediatrics journal.
How often do you sit down to eat as a family? Read about what other families do and join the discussion on our forum.