Family Meals Help Children Grow Up Healthier

Eating together with your children is a magnificent thing, because such moments are remembered for the rest of your life. Yet it appears that family meals are not just pleasant: researchers report that those children who enjoy eating with their families grow up healthier and happier.

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Canadian researchers carried out a study in the course of which they followed a cohort of children from Quebec. The team from Université de Montréal analyzed how eating together with parents affected children’s behavior and both mental and physical health.

The research covered a cohort of children who were born in 1997-1998. They started following them when the babies were five months old. When the children reached the age of six, the second stage of the project started: the participants’ parents also joined the project and reported their eating habits, e.g. if their children preferred to eat alone or enjoyed regular family meals. The third stage of the study followed when the children turned ten: the participants’ lifestyle habits, social skills and psychological well-being were described by the children themselves and their teachers and parents.

Since it was a longitudinal study, the researchers were interested in the gradual process of developing social skills, and the way family meals were affecting the children’s psychological state as they were growing up. Yet it proved to have an even greater impact on them, because not only were there differences in mental health – their physical condition also correlated with the habit of eating together. According to the investigators, many of those children who had better family meal environment at the age of six were fit and consumed less soft drinks than those who experienced irregular or no family meals. Besides, their behavior was better: they were less aggressive, and their social skills also improved to a great extent. On the contrary, the level of fitness among those who were not given an opportunity to enjoy eating together as a family was lower, and some of them tended to be oppositional.

The results of the Canadian research suggest that the earlier you start eating together, the better, because such an environment is beneficial for your child development, both physical and psychological.

Why is eating together important?

Family meals are a wonderful opportunity to share opinions, learn how to interact, behave and be polite, and build stronger relationships between family members. Also, children learn behavior patterns and the way men and women communicate. Such a healthy environment makes those involved in family meals happier and calmer, and helps discuss different issues and concerns with the people the child can confide in. Besides, the child has the opportunity to learn what a family should be like. For example, family traditions can also be part of family meals and vice versa (for instance, the pies your mother used to bake can affect your notion of coziness and perfect home, etc.).

The researchers considered a lot of information about the social background of the children, what pre-existing conditions they had, etc. to make sure the results are not distorted by other factors.

It appears that eating together is not just one of the indicators of a healthy family, but also a means of improving children’s well-being. Nowadays, few families prefer to eat together, and since introducing such a practice can benefit the young (and parents too!), this approach should be included in parent education programs.

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