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Published on August 21, 2018

family eating dinner

3 surprising benefits of family meals

Pulling your family together for a meal four to five times a week can have significant—and maybe surprising— health benefits.

Some perks of family meals include:

  1. Improved learning. Young children learn words from listening to their parents and siblings talking during meals. Hearing this conversation is almost as beneficial as reading to kids. Additionally, research shows teens who eat meals with their family are twice as likely to get higher grades in school.
  2. Healthier behaviors. There’s a link between family meals and a lower risk of children engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems and eating disorders. These children also are more apt to have lower rates of depression and feel more positive about their futures.
  3. Better health as children and adults. Children who eat meals with their families tend to eat healthier overall, have fewer symptoms of some medical conditions such as asthma, have lower rates of obesity and eat healthier as adults.

For most families, a meal together can open communication and help children feel accepted. But with busy schedules, how are regular family meals possible?

Tips to make regular family meals possible

  • Choose a time: It doesn’t have to be an evening meal; choose a mealtime that works best for your family’s schedule.
  • Freeze it: When you make a family favorite, cook a large batch so you can freeze some for another meal.
  • Eat simply: A meal can be as simple as a sandwich and veggies. Offer at least three food groups so your family gets a balanced diet, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. The goal is to bring everyone together.
  • Stash the screens: Meals don’t have to be eaten at a table, but enjoy them away from electronics. Children who eat in front of a TV or while on the computer have higher rates of obesity.
  • Teachable moments: Involve everyone in meal planning, grocery shopping, food prep and clean-up.

For more family-friendly healthy tips and recipes, go to gundersenhealth.org/health-wellness.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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