Sitting down to eat as a family can have multiple benefits, especially on kids

Contributing ColumnistApril 20, 2014 

Dr. Michelle Bennett, Baptist Health

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Don't you love it when someone gives you a book that speaks to you in that moment? For Christmas, I received a book called The Family Dinner, which opened my eyes to how important something as simple as sitting down regularly with our children to eat can be.

We in America have become so scheduled and activity-driven that we're losing the basic family bonding experience of preparing and sharing our meals, and our families are suffering for it. The data regarding family dinner are really intriguing — and empowering. Here are some of the facts:

■ Teens who share family dinner five or more times a week are 42 percent less likely to drink alcohol, 59 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes, and 66 percent less likely to try marijuana.

■ Teens who share family meals frequently are 40 percent more likely to get A's and B's in school.

■ Teens who share regular family dinners are less likely to be depressed, are more motivated at school, and have better peer relationships.

■ Children ages 7 to 11 who eat meals frequently with their families perform better on school achievement tests.

Isn't that amazing? Something as simple as sitting down as a family to eat has drastic effects on our children. Being more mindful about our meals also has the potential to result in healthier diets and better nutrition. Here are some important things to consider as you ponder how to implement more family meals into your lifestyle:

■ Family meals don't necessarily have to be at dinner. Family breakfast is always an option and might help everyone get off to school/work on a healthy, happy footing each day.

■ It might help to create a standardized rotating meal plan, thus decreasing the amount of new planning required each week or each shopping trip.

■ There should be a no-technology rule at the family dinner table — no cellphones, no TV, etc.

■ Something as simple as putting a candle on the table helps to signify the ritual of the meal.

■ As much as possible, involve family members in the preparation and clean-up of the meal and table.

■ Above all, have fun and enjoy one another. Don't overwhelm yourself by feeling that the food has to be fancy or perfect. What the studies on family meals certainly show is that the food is only a small part of what makes the family meal so special.

Dr. Michelle Bennett, a pediatrician at Pediatric & Adolescent Associates, PSC, practices at Baptist Health Lexington.

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