In this time of warp-speed and multi-layered scheduling for every member of the family, meals eaten together around a single table seem quaint and very Leave It To Beaver. But numerous scientific studies have revealed the old-time custom to be worth reviving. This study, one of the first of its kind to examine family meals and the eating habits of middle-schoolers, adds to the list of benefits. The researchers found that adolescents who participated in five or more family meals per week had healthier diets and meal patterns five years later, compared to kids who ate with their clan less often. The hope is that this effect remains at 25 years out, and beyond.
Data for this study was drawn from Project EAT, a large study overseen by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis. This study included 303 boys and 374 girls who completed surveys when they were around age 13, and again around age 17. The study showed that regular family meals declined over time: 60 percent of the kids had them at early adolescence, while just 30 percent had them five years later. But the adolescents who ate with their families at both times had healthier eating patterns overall. They ate breakfast more frequently; ate more vegetables, calcium-rich foods, dietary fiber; and got more nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc.
What it Means:
Anything that improves kids’ eating habits is important: According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, adolescent intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich food are lower than what’s recommended. Beyond that, studies show that eating patterns established during adolescence often track into adulthood. With rates of obesity and its life-threatening consequences continuing to rise, establishing healthful eating patterns early is key not only to kids’ health, but to their survival as adults.