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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Family Dinner: Nurture and Nutrition


Yesterday's post was on how important family meals were for me when I was growing up. I promised you more info on how to create a lasting impression on your kids at mealtime.

As a dietitian, I am always interested in statistics on how we can improve the nutrition for our families. A study out this fall in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that teens who eat meals with their families have the following benefits:
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables than peer not eating with family
  • Drink fewer sodas
  • Make it a priority to eat with family
  • Teen girls are more likely to eat breakfast when they eat frequent family meals
  • Kids who grow up with healthy habits carry them on to adulthood

While nutrition is important, there are even more benefits to eating together. Families who eat together report having closer connections emotionally as a family unit. Family meals are a time for connection, communication, and love. This si not a good time for disciplining children. Mealtime should be a time that everyone looks forward to.

Here are some tips to start making family meals important in your house:
  • Don't worry if you don't have time to make the meal from scratch. Just the act of eating together has enormous benefits. Keep it simple and don't feel pressured to have anything fancy. Even if you get takeout but eat it together, it counts as a family meal!
  • Keep the conversation light. Family meals are a good time to share positive stories about what happened in everyone's day but not a good time to harp on kids to get their homework done or clean up their rooms. You may be surprised what you kids will share at the dinner table when the atmosphere is relaxed.
  • Have proper attire for the dinner table. Don't let the kids come to the table without a shirt.
  • Model good table manners. Proper etiquette will take your kids far in life.
  • Mom and Dad: Eat your vegetables. It doesn't matter how many times you tell your kids to eat their vegetables--they are not going to eat them if they don't see you eating them.
  • If you don't always have time to eat dinner together every night because of busy schedules, try for breakfast in the morning or lunch on the weekends. Aim for at least two family dinners each week, if not seven!
  • Don't make your kids clean their plate. Let them serve themselves from the age of 5 on. Encourage them to take small portions and follow their sense of fullness instead of feeling like they have to clean their plate.
  • Get creative. Try new recipes and include the whole family in planning, shopping for, and preparing meals. When kids help to plan the meals they are much more likely to eat everything cooked (even the vegetables!)
  • Create a nice environment with a candle, fresh flowers, or some soft music.
  • Last but not least: Turn off the TV during dinnertime!
Does anyone have any other good tips? I would love to hear them!

Don't you love the 70's family dinner photo? Courtesy of gregor_y's photostream
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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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