Pediatrician Intuition – What your pediatrician wants you to know
Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H.
All across the United States, millions of families prepare to sit at the family dinner table every night and eat a lovingly-prepared, wholesome meal as they discuss the happenings of the day and experience good family nutrition.
Doesn’t sound familiar? Maybe more like a 1940s Norman Rockwell painting?
If this does sound like the way dinners are shared daily in your household, congratulations. If the concept of family dinners shared across a table sounds foreign, you’re not alone. According to a 2011 study published in the medical journal, Pediatrics, only about 52% of families share meals 5-7 nights per week, 31% share 1 to 4 meals together and 14% don’t share any meals as a group, a decrease from just a few years ago.
Why bother eating together? After all, family meals are hard to make a habit. Soccer practice, school play rehearsal, mom rushing home from work and dad late at a meeting almost every night is stressful enough as it is. We’re lucky enough even to pack our kids a healthy lunch or to bring some wholesome snacks along with us as we hop from activity to activity. We have time constraints and scheduling pressures that put eating well and eating together on the back burner. Add in the cost and time associated with home made food and it can seem impossible to make this “should do task” a “can do” priority.
The benefits of family meals, though, are overwhelming. Kids and teens who eat meals with their families at least 3 times per week are more likely to have a normal weight and to make better nutrition choices than those who eat less often with their families. The frequency of family meals has also been shown to be inversely relate to soft drink and high-fat food intake. Eating together discourages disordered eating, as well.
Family meals also help build communication between family members, are tied to better school performance and are associated with healthy psychological development.
Even more importantly, family meals allow you to model and teach wise nutrition consistently. Research shows that the food choices we make while pregnant and lactating affect the nutritional choices of our children. Even more overwhelming is the evidence that the foods your kids watch you choose, eat and enjoy are the foods your kids will pick as they grow older too. When you sit down at table with them to eat a healthy meal, you are teaching them a healthy behavior. When you rush to the drive through for a big mac with cheese, large fries and a coke, you are teaching them, well…. a bad one.
All of us have barriers to eating well for our selves and to providing the best food options to our children in the healthiest settings but, by prioritizing family meals, you are promoting a lifetime of healthy nutrition choices for your family. Not only are you more likely to eat healthy food yourself, your kids are too.
About the blog
This blog is written by our providers. It is not intended to replace any medical advice, but rather to share our thoughts on a variety of topics we encounter daily as primary care pediatricians in the Portland area. Each entry’s author is named under its title. This content is not based on any commercial product or service, nor is it a recommendation of such. Opinions expressed are our own and are not influenced by any form of compensation.