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Seven Secret Ways to Improve Dinner With Your Family

June 20, 2006 | 11,038 views

The traditional family dinner, so engrained in American culture, yet seemingly disappearing from many families' daily routine, is just as important as experts have been saying, according to this Time magazine article -- and it may be making a comeback.

The benefits of eating together as a family were confirmed by a 2005 study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. After nearly 10 years of gathering data, researchers found that family dinners get better with practice. Among families who don't eat together often, the food tends to be less healthy, the conversation more sparse and the TV on more of the time.

Among families who do eat together regularly:

  • They tend to spend more time reading for pleasure and on homework

  • They experience less tension among family members

  • Children are more likely to feel their parents are proud of them

  • Children are 40 percent more likely to get mainly A's and B's in school

    Although it may seem like, as a culture, we're busier than ever, it seems the family dinner may be a mainstay: the 2005 CASA study found that 23 percent more adolescents are eating dinner with their families on most nights than they did in 1998.

    And if you think your teen might object, consider this: the study found that teens who ate with their family three times or less each week wished their family ate together more often.


    Dr. Mercola's Comments:

    I tend to focus on the physical components of food, but there are enormous social consequences of eating. Mealtimes can be a very powerful source of nourishment for the optimal development of children.

    Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, and eat their vegetables.

    The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University studied this issue for ten years. Their researchers found essentially that family dinner gets better with practice. Among those who eat together three or fewer times a week, nearly half  say the TV is on during meals (as opposed to about one-third of all households), and nearly one-third say there isn't much conversation.

    Unfortunately, this can be a practical challenge in the time-pressured environment that most of us live in. This is especially true for older teenagers, and the crazy paradox is that the older kids are, the more they benefit from this protected time together, but the less likely they are to get it.

    Here are seven practical recommendations to optimize mealtime with your family.

    • Make mealtimes fun! The emotional atmosphere at mealtimes is important. Don't use mealtimes as an opportunity to chastise, and don't let a child's failure to eat cause unpleasantness.

    • Make the most of role models. Siblings, peers and parents can act as role models to encourage the tasting of new foods.

    • Expose your child to a range of foods, tastes and textures early on.

    • Keep trying new foods. Repeated exposure to initially disliked foods can break down resistance.

    • Other than highly processed foods and sugar, don't restrict access to particular foods. This has the effect of increasing, rather than decreasing, preference for, and consumption of, that food.

    • Avoid forcing your child to eat a particular food. Doing so will decrease the liking of that food. Food phobias are to be expected and should not be allowed to generate negativity. It has been my experience that if young children are not overloaded with grains, sugars and processed foods, their instincts are quite a valid indicator of what is actually healthy for them. If they refuse what seems to you to be a healthy food it may be their body giving them a strong signal that it is not good for them.

    • Avoid using high-energy foods as rewards and treats for eating their greens. It's unlikely to encourage your child to eat the food you want them to eat. Additionally, it will facilitate their membership in the ever-expanding obese child group. Use rewards such as a trip to the swimming pool or the cinema instead.


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