Archive for Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Meals together good for family

September 3, 2008


Q: With the startup of school and school-related activities, our family is already struggling once again to eat meals together. How important is it?

A: Extremely important! Simply eating more meals together can improve physical, mental and emotional health for your whole family.

Studies show that family meals can have a positive effect on nutrition. Eating more family meals is associated with the same smart food choices that promote a healthy weight: higher intake of fruits, vegetables, grains and calcium-rich foods, as well as lower soft drink intake. Teens who eat more family meals have higher intakes of key nutrients like calcium, iron, vitamins A, C, E, B6 and folate, as well as fiber.

A five-year longitudinal study at the University of Minnesota also concluded that family meals during adolescence may have a lasting positive influence on dietary quality and meal patterns in young adulthood. Family meal frequency during adolescence predicted higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, dark-green and orange vegetables, and key nutrients and lower intakes of soft drinks during young adulthood. Frequency of family meals also predicted more breakfast meals in females and for both sexes predicted more frequent dinner meals, higher priority for meal structure and higher priority for social eating.

Family meals are about more than eating healthy food together. They increase intergenerational communication and a sense of family unity, which affects many aspects of a young person's life - from substance abuse to performance in school. The Importance of Family Dinners III 2006 survey at Columbia University revealed that young people who ate dinner with their family five or more times per week were much likelier to say that they receive either all A's or mostly A's and B's in school. Teens who had family dinners less than two times per week were more than twice as likely to have tried cigarettes and one and a half times likelier to have tried alcohol.

Make a commitment to plan regular family meals with a variety of nutrient-rich foods served in a pleasant atmosphere. It is clearly one of the easiest ways to enhance your family's health and happiness. Here are some tips for creating quality mealtimes even with hectic schedules:

¢ Plan one more family mealtime in every week. Take a quick inventory of how many times you usually eat together now. Then plan to add just one more family mealtime per week. If dinnertime is too hectic, add a leisurely weekend breakfast or lunch. Make family meals a top priority by making sure their in everyone's calendar or PDA.

¢ Plan tasty menus for family meals together. The best meals are simple, delicious and planned together. Let everyone choose a favorite menu for one day. Even small children can pick a main dish (like tacos or pasta), a veggie (green salad or cooked carrots) and fruit for dessert (sliced apples or canned peaches in juice).

¢ Plan to set a special table for family meals. Set the mood for an enjoyable and relaxed time around the table together by adding a candle, some colored napkins or wipe-clean, plastic tablemats for children.

¢ Plan to turn off the TV and telephones. Turn off the distractions for just 30 minutes. Imagine you are dining at a nice restaurant and play some soothing background music at low volume.

¢ Plan to enjoy conversation at the table. Many mealtime benefits come from the conversations that families have while eating together.

Children learn new words from the adults, and adults are able to share family values with the next generation. Choose topics that are positive and allow everyone to participate. Even toddlers like to offer their opinions on topics like "what is your favorite color" or "what made you laugh today." During the tween and teen years, have each family member share their "high" and "low" of the day - it may bring out "happenings" that may not have been discussed otherwise.

To find out more about the positive effects of family meals and gain ideas on how to make them a reality, plan to attend "Everybody To the Table - It's Time to Eat," presented by Paula Aiken at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 12 at the K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County Office, located on the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds. A $3 charge will be accepted at the door to cover the cost of the meal being prepared and shared. For more information, call 843-7058.

- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.


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