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More and more research shows that family meals have numerous benefits. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, children and teens whose families have frequent family dinners are:

  • At lower risk for substance abuse
  • Less likely to try cigarettes
  • Less likely to try marijuana
  • Less likely to try alcohol or get drunk monthly
  • Likely to get better grades in school
Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) at the University of Minnesota found that family meals were associated with better intakes of fruits, vegetables, grains, calcium-rich foods and many other nutrients. They found that family meals were also associated with a lower intake of soft drinks and snack foods, and that girls who ate more frequent family meals exhibited less disordered eating such as extreme dieting behaviors and binge eating.

Start your family tradition of eating together when your children are young. Most families come together over a meal at dinnertime, but some find that breakfast works better for them. Turn off the television and other distractions (no cell phone conversations!) and focus on talking with each other. Children will learn a larger vocabulary, learn how to take turns, and hone other social skills. They will also learn about how the world works and how their parents feel about various issues.

You'll want to serve a variety of good foods, but there's no need to make the meal too elaborate. Involve your children in the meal preparation -- they may be more willing to eat something new when they help. Develop your own rituals and routines -- maybe pizza every Sunday evening, or a "breakfast" menu (such as pancakes fruit and sausage) served as dinner once a month. Kids will look forward to these special events (and remind you if you forget!).

Esther Schak,
Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE


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