Working parents say family mealtime is a great opportunity to bond with their school-aged children. Whilst studies have shown the wonderful impact shared mealtime can have on a family’s dynamics, it can also influence the children’s diet.
Throughout childhood and adolescence, the body and mind are developing constantly, and with this comes an ever-increasing demand for nutrients.
Family mealtime increases fruit and vegetable intake and decreases disordered food behaviours, such as binge eating. This positive impact can be seen across all genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses.
Increased nutrient consumption has been proven in fibre, calcium, folate, iron, many vitamins (B6, B12, C and E) and more.
Shared mealtime also has an association with lower fried food and fizzy drink consumption, which are both huge contributors to the global child obesity pandemic.
Approximately 124 million children worldwide are obese.
The Family Meals LIVE! study was designed to identify protective factors for childhood obesity within the home food environment. The study took 2 years to complete and provided some key results in how family mealtime impacts children’s health.
The study found that the average length of a family meal is only 16 minutes. 61% of these meals happen alongside some type of screen-time entertainment and 28% do not occur in the kitchen or dining room.
The study concluded that obese children had shorter mealtimes and ate in the family room or bedroom more often. Other studies have shown that TV during meals means the family is less likely to engage with each other.
The atmosphere created during these family mealtimes has an impact on the child’s risk of obesity. Positive reinforcement, warmth and group enjoyment all lower the risk of obesity. In fact, the more positive the family dynamics overall, the less likely the children are to be overweight.
A positive, calm, argument-free environment is also the best possible set up for getting toddlers to eat those greens!
Most parents are aware of the wonderful advantages that family mealtimes offer, but they can be challenging to fit in, especially when both parents work.
Family mealtimes only need to be around 20 minutes long to see the benefit. This offers enough time for the family to swap stories about their day, communicate about food positively and reconnect.
Three or more family meals per week have been shown to have an incredibly positive impact on childrens’ diet and lifestyle choices. However, just one a week will have more of an influence than no family meals at all.
In the current climate, we are having to spend more time at home than we are used to, but with that comes some great positives and opportunities to sit together with our children and get talking about food.
- Eisenberg et al 2004 Correlations Between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-being Among Adolescents
- CASAColumbia 2012 The Importance of Family Dinners VIII
- Gillman et al 2000 Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents
- Martin-Biggers et al 2014 Come and Get It! A Discussion of Family Mealtime Literature and Factors Affecting Obesity Risk
- Trofholz et al 2017 What’s Being Served for Dinner? An Exploratory Investigation of the Associations between the Healthfulness of Family Meals and Child Dietary Intake
- Berge et al 2014 Childhood Obesity and Interpersonal Dynamics During Family Meals
- do Amaral e Melo et al 2020 Family meal frequency and its association with food consumption and nutritional status in adolescents: A systematic review
- Dwyer et al 2015 Promoting family meals: a review of existing interventions and opportunities for future research
- Berge et al 2015 The Protective Role of Family Meals for Youth Obesity: 10-year Longitudinal Associations