May 30, 2012 By: Ed Category: Uncategorized

By Tara Carson

Since the 1950s, families eating meals together has been an important and beneficial aspect of family life. However, in recent years the frequency of shared meals has decreased for American families, which is causing negative effects on their health and well-being. Research has determined that if more families implemented shared meals into their daily routine, they would reap numerous benefits.

Providing regular mealtimes is important for a child to achieve positive academic performance. Children who eat regularly with their parents are 40 percent more likely to earn higher grades in school than children who have less frequent family meals per week, according to a 10-year study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

Family meals promote good health. Children who eat regularly with their families tend to eat more healthily and are less likely to develop obesity, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are also more likely to develop better table manners and social skills, which will help children adjust.

Eating together provides stability and a point of reference for everyone’s day, which makes concentrating on daily tasks, such as school, homework and sports, easier for children to accomplish.

Many teenagers struggle to maintain a positive body image. Family meals can help. A five-year study published in the “IDEA Fitness Journal” reported that adolescent girls who eat regular family meals have a lower prevalence of anorexia and bulimia.

Helpful Tips
Treating the family meal as an important family ritual will make the experience more valuable for everyone. Turn off the television, video games, computer and cell phones to avoid distractions during mealtimes.

Sharing and conversation is important for creating an atmosphere of family togetherness and will make the mealtime more meaningful. Give each person at the table an opportunity to share a few items about their day.

Organizing meals ahead of time will ensure eating together is a positive experience that will be remembered fondly. Plan ahead. Take a few minutes on the weekend to decide on the meals that will be served for dinner each night of the week.

All family members eating together, even young children, creates a group bonding experience in which all family members can spend time together and learn from one another.To accomplish this, younger family members may need to develop the skill of staying seated during meals, which will develop as they grow older. As a general rule, according to Jennifer Ricciardi, director of the Lifestyle Finishing School in Burke, Virginia, multiply the child’s age by three to set the time he should remain seated. A 3 year old may be able to tolerate only nine minutes of sitting at the table, but an 8 year old’s limit would be closer to 25 minutes. After the child successfully sits for his allotted time, give him a special activity or toy as his reward.

Expert Insight
Many families think their schedules will not accommodate eating together, but putting priorities in the proper order is important. Time spent per week watching television and using a computer can be reduced to make time for family meals. Creating memories with family members is much more crucial than watching a television. “Most mealtimes only last about 20 minutes,” says Dr. Barbara Fiese, a psychologist and researcher at Syracuse University. “Three or four shared family meals a week add up to about one hour–considerably less time than a weekly televised sports event or movie.”

Catering to individual preferences during meal planning should be avoided because when family members eat the same foods during a meal, bonding is emphasized. “A meal is about sharing,” says William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and author of The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties. “I see this trend where parents are preparing different meals for each kid, and it takes away from that. The sharing is the compromise. Not everyone gets their ideal menu every night.”

Being flexible is important to making family meals a reality. In many American families, all family members are not available to have dinner together every evening. To solve this problem, schedule weekday morning and weekend meals instead. Sharing time together is the aspect that matters, not the designated time.

Staying positive is important. If you are new to creating a regular family meals and the results are not positive right away, do not be discouraged. A Columbia University study revealed that family meals get better with practice. The more often a family eats together, the better the experience is likely to be, the healthier the food and the more dynamic the conversations

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