Eat Dinner as a Family to Boost Kids' Health

Sitting down to nightly dinners with your family has plenty of benefits, including learning to appreciate the value of a home-cooked meal, practicing the dying art of conversation and hearing about the entire family's day. But according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics featured in U.S. News & World Report, family meals also work to promote healthy eating habits in children.

The study, which took place in 2009 and focused on children between the ages of 3 and 17, set out to find the effects of family meals on eating habits, general nutrition and weight. It proved that eating together brings positive results -- something that most parents who share meals with their children on a regular basis already know. The more frequently families dined together, the better able were their children to maintain a healthy weight, make proper nutrition choices (opting for healthy snacks over soda and candy) and avoid disordered eating behaviors. Not only that, the benefits from shared meals rose exponentially with frequency.

Though these finds are encouraging, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the resulting benefits. Experts suggest the obvious -- that home-cooked meals are more balanced and less caloric than, say, a bag full of fast food take-out eaten in the car.

They also note that conversation at the dinner table is helpful as those who are busy chatting are less likely to wolf down their meals (and therefore consume less in the long run). Parents are able to model positive behavior in a repetitive way by making healthful choices, and children are a captive audience when seated at the dinner table. (Likewise, parents who eat out a lot model this negative behavior for their children -- impacting wallets and waistlines.)

While benefits such as improving family communication, bettering one's nutritional intake and keeping that BMI in check are reasons enough, family dinners force us to stay connected to loved ones -- and we certainly don't need doctors' orders to see the value in that.

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