Want your teenager to eat better? Have more family meals, even if your family isn't particularly close, new research suggests.
"Gathering around the dinner table is sort of a magical thing," said lead researcher Kathryn Walton, a dietitian and Ph.D. student at the University of Guelph in Canada.
Many benefits of family dinners
"It's a time when families can slow down from their busy days to talk, spend time together and problem-solve. It's also a time that parents can model healthful eating behaviours," Walton said in a university news release.
The study included more than 2 700 young people, aged 14 to 24, who were living with their parents. They were asked how often they sat down for dinner with their families, how well their family functions, and about their eating habits.
Teens and young adults who ate with their family more tended to eat more fruits and vegetables and less fast or takeout food. This happened regardless of how families managed daily routines, communicated and connected emotionally, according to the researchers.
Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study couldn't prove that family dinner caused teens to become healthy eaters, only that there was an association.
Still, "to reap the many benefits of family dinners, the meal doesn't have to be a big drawn-out affair," said study co-author Jess Haines, a professor of family relations and applied nutrition at Guelph.
Improved dietary intake
"Even if it's something you pull out of the freezer, add a bagged salad on the side and you'll have a decent nutritional meal," Haines said.
Walton also noted that when teens and young adults help prepare food, they are more likely to eat it and learn important food skills.
"Our research found that family dinners are a great way to improve the dietary intake of the whole family, regardless of how well the family functions together," Walton said. "Preparing and enjoying a meal together can also help families bond. It's a win-win."
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