Family Dinners = Pass the Veggies, Please!

So your kids may complain about the penne with organic spinach or whatever you're serving up, but they may thank you in years to come as those regular family dinners have a host of health benefits. Pre-teens who eat dinner at least five times a week with most of their family members eat a better balanced diet.

Students from suburban and urban public middle schools in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area completed surveys and a questionnaire in 1998-1999, when they were 12 or 13 years old. Five years later, they completed another questionnaire on their family eating habits and patterns as high schoolers.

Here's a peek from WebMD at the study published in the March/April issue of The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior:

The study included 303 males and 374 females. Regular family meals were defined as five or more meals during the week with all or most of the family living in the house. Over time, regular family meals declined, the researchers say. Sixty percent of youngsters had regular family meals during early adolescence vs. 30% during middle adolescence, researchers say in the March/April issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The researchers say that having regular family meals was associated with a greater frequency of eating breakfast and dinner, and also increased intake of vegetables, calcium-rich food, dietary fiber, and nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

An important finding, the researchers say, is that young people who had regular family meals when 12-13 and also five years later had better diet quality.

From time to time we hear about the supposed benefits of family dinners - they promote academic success and self-esteem, protect against drug and alcohol abuse. Still, those relationships can most likely be attributed to parental involvement. Conscientious parents both eat more regularly with their kids and also help their children navigate the demands of school and their social lives. But in this latest study we have good evidence of the nutritional benefits of family dinners. Sure, this evidence rests on the kid's self-reports, but it hangs with other recent studies showing the lasting health benefits of eating together.

Burgess-Champoux et al. O21Are Family Meal Patterns Associated with Overall Diet Quality During the Transition From Early to Middle Adolescence? Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2007; 39 (4): S98 DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2007.04.276

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