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Bringing back family meal times

Why eating with the family is good for your children
By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Is dinnertime at your home a grab and go affair with everyone eating different food, at different times and in different rooms? Or do you all sit down when the clock strikes six with linen napkins and your clean and well-mannered children?

For most families it’s probably somewhere between the two. It is hard sometimes to schedule family meals because of parents working long hours, children’s homework and after school activities.

If kids are small they might eat earlier than their parents. If they are teenagers they may want to grab a burger with their mates.

Even if you do have your family in the same place at the same time, there’s the lure of the laptop, mobile or TV to contend with.

A survey of 1,500 parents across the UK in 2013 for Organix and the Daily Telegraph suggested that more than 1 in 5 families only sits down for a family meal one or twice a week, with 1 in 5 meals eaten in front of the TV.

So what are the benefits of a family meal?

Children eat more healthily

You tend to eat more healthily if you are all sitting down to a family meal. If the children see parents tucking into vegetables they are more likely to have some too. If you all have the same meal it encourages children to compromise and not be so fussy about what they will and won’t eat. They get to experience different flavours.

"Meals are generally healthier as snack food is often less nutritious and children are more likely to over eat and eat higher calorie food," says health author and wellbeing consultant Liz Tucker. "For a child grabbing something to eat, especially if they have free rein, is not a healthy option as they will only select on taste not nutrition."

Better manners

Their table manners are better if they are encouraged to eat correctly with the right implements, which can help in social situations in later life.

Parenting expert and author Karen Doherty says: "Family meals are a superb time to teach children manners: how to carry on pleasant conversation over a meal and how to hold a knife and fork."

She says if you use the manners you would like your children to use, they’re likely to pick most things up over time.

Makes kids happier

Children who eat an evening meal with their family at least three times a week are more likely to report being completely happy with their family situation than children who never eat with their family.

That was one of the findings from Understanding Society, the world’s largest household panel study, managed by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex.

As part of the study, which is following 40,000 UK households over a number of years, more than 2,000 young people aged between 10 and 15 have been asked how satisfied they are with their lives.

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