Family Meals: Not just about the food!

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Research shows that families who eat together tend to communicate better, and parents know more about kids and their friends. This morning, registered dietitian, Pat Baird stopped by our studio to talk about ways to make family dinners both healthier and easier.

Food at family meals is likely to be more healthful.  Kids tend to eat more fruits and vegetables; vitamins and minerals – and less fried food.

In addition, The Journal of Pediatrics has reported that frequent family meals can be protective against obesity.  That’s important because it’s well established that weight gain in kids and adolescents generally carries over into adulthood. Overweight contributes to chronic disease.

Other studies show kids weigh less when the families and caregivers came together for meals.  Looking over data that spanned a 10-year period, researchers found that even as few as 1-2 family meals per week reduced the odds of overweight.

Make your table a magnet for family dinners!  A few easy strategies for parents and caregivers make more family meals a reality, and everyone will eat better.

  1. Look at the non-nutritional benefits:
    • Research shows family meals creates closer family bonds
    • Having as few as 1-2 meals/week reduced odds of obesity
    • Previous research showed 74% of adolescents report they LIKE having family meals
    • Regular family meals are associated with higher grades; lower rates of substance abuse and depression in kids
  2. Problem: “We don’t have time!” Make time! Have a plan and keep it simple.
    • Use MyPlate to plan family dinners; half the plate should always be veggies and fruit
    • Kids eat more fruits & veggies when parents eat the; it’s modeling
    • Use tricks to entice healthier eating: add dried fruits to salads and side dishes; use fruit-base sauce instead of fatty gravies and sauces; add broccoli to baked macaroni
    • Buy more fresh than processed; use more spices and herbs.
  3. Make it Easy, Make it Quick:
    • Keep a running shopping list in the kitchen; get everyone involved in planning and shopping
    • Use frozen poly bags of veggies to toss into soups, sauces and casseroles
    • Watch the fat: bake, broil, grill; avoid frying
      • YES, take-out or restaurants are fine WHEN the right foods are selected.  Create a contest to get the whole family familiar with the healthiest choices at favorite restaurants
  4. Make a Schedule: If you don’t it won’t happen.
    • Use an oversize wall calendar for everyone to check
    • Make a Master Family Calendar on Google everyone can check on their cell phone

For more information go to

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