“When families cook at home, the meals tend to be lower in fat and salt, have more fruits and vegetables, and are better portioned. But the benefits of family meals are beyond just nutritional. The social and emotional connections kids strengthen with their families when they eat together help kids perform better academically, engage less in high risk behaviors, and reduce their risk for obesity and disordered eating.”
– Jill Jayne, MS, RD
CREATOR, JUMP WITH JILL

  • More fruits and vegetables – When cooking at home, you have the opportunity to include more nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
  • Less saturated fat, trans-fat, sodium and cholesterol – You control the ingredients added to the meal!
  • Improved nutrition in young adulthood 1 – Adolescents who regularly eat meals with their families have higher intakes of fruit, vegetables and key nutrients later in young adulthood. They also have lower intakes of soft drinks.
  • Serve as a foundation for healthy nutrition choices 2,3 – Important opportunity for exposure to healthy food choices and parent modeling of positive eating behavior
        • Children who eat dinner with their families consume more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain and calcium rich foods, less fried foods and soda, and consume more key nutrients than those who do not.
        • Increased intake of:
            • Fiber
            • Calcium
            • Folate
            • Iron
            • Vitamins A, B-6, B-12, C & E
            • Protein
        • Lower intake of
            • Trans-fat
            • Saturated fat
    • Better portion sizes – Restaurants tend to serve patrons too much, which leads to overeating. When you prepare your meal at home, you greater control over how much you and your child consume.

Family meals also have benefits beyond the nutrition of a square meal – research on family meals has been linked with positive effects on:

  • Family connection 4 Family meal time is an opportunity to connect with your family and reflect on the day’s events. It is a time for social connectedness, cultural expression, and life enhancement.
  • Child’s social and psychosocial development 4,5,6 – Children who regularly eat dinner with their families learn social resistance and program solving skills, while gaining self-esteem, a sense of purpose/self-worth, and a positive view of the future
  • Adolescent development 4,5,7 – Family connectedness is associated with decreased engagement in high-rick behaviors such as substance use and violence, and fewer psychological problems, including emotional distress and suicidal thoughts. A family meal can serve as a buffer that parents can use to guide children and adolescents through the world’s many unhealthful situations. Furthermore, at a time where teens are developing independence from their family unit, family meal time serves as an opportunity to check in and connect with your teen.
  • School performance 5,8– Research shows regular families meals to be associated with academic success, greater grade point average, and enhanced vocabulary. Furthermore, children who regularly eat dinner with their family are more likely to graduate from high school.
  • Obesity risk 2 – Children who eat dinner regularly with their family have a lower risk of obesity. This is likely related to better nutrition choices and parent modeling of healthy behaviors.
  • Disordered Eating 9,10 – Regular family meals (5 or more/week) are associated with lower prevalence of extreme weight control behaviors in adolescent girls. Family meals appear to be protective against the development of disordered eating, and may help to prevent later onset of eating disorders in college and young adulthood. Additionally, family mealtime provides an opportunity for parents to recognize any early signs of disordered eating and take steps to help their child.
  • Greater priority for meal structure and social meals later in life 1 – Individuals who report regular family meals as teens make structured meal time and socialization a priority in young adulthood.

So even if you don’t consider yourself a “chef,” even your attempt goes a long way toward better health outcomes for your family!

SOURCES

(1) Larson NI, Neumark-Sztainer D, Hannan PJ, Story M (2007). Family Meals during Adolescence Are Associated with Higher Diet Quality and Healthful Meal Patterns during Young Adulthood. J Am Diet Assoc, 107: 9, 1502–1510.

(2) Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman SL, Frazier L, Rockett HR, Camargo CA, Field AE, Berkey CS, Colditz GA. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240.

(3) Neumark-Sztainer D, Hannan PJ, Story M, Croll J, Perry C (2003). Family meal patterns: associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 103(3): 317-22.

(4) Fulkerson JA, Story M, Mellin A, Leffert N, Neumark-Sztainer D, French SA (2006). Family dinner meal frequency and adolescent development: Relationships with developmental assets and high-risk behaviors. J Adolesc Health. 39:337-345.

(5) Eisenberg, M. E., Olson, R. E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Bearinger, L. H. (2004). Correlations between family meals and psy- chosocial well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics & Ad- olescent Medicine, 158, 792–796.

(6) Franko DL, Thompson D, Affenito SG, Barton BA, Striegel-Moore RH (2008). What mediates the relationship between family meals and adolescent health issues. Health Psychol. 27(2 Suppl): S109-17.

(7) Traveras EM, Rifas-Shmin SL, Berkey CS, Rocket HR, Field AE, Frazier AL, Coldits GA, Gillman MW (2005). Family dinner and adolescent overweight. Ones Res, 13:900-906.

(8) Eisenberg ME, Neumark-Sztainer D, Fulkerson JA, Story M (2008). Family Meals and Substance Use: Is There a Long-Term Protective Association? J Adoles Health. 43(2): 151-156.

(9) Neumark-Sztainer D, Eisenberg ME, Fulkerson JA, Story M, Larson N (2008). Family Meals and Disordered Eating in Adolescents Longitudinal Findings From Project EAT FREE. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 162(1):17-22.

(10) Hammons A, Fiese BH (2011). Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? Pediatrics. 127(6).