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Family-Sized New Year's Resolutions.

When the new year begins, why not make a resolution to eat better as a family? You can keep good nutrition in mind as well as spend more quality time together at the table. And if you can make more of your meals a family event, experts say you may also be

Breaking Bread Together Means Eating Better

Researchers will tell you that it is a healthy thing to eat together, especially if you can win more control over dinnertime. Children who eat frequently with their families, for example, and actually sit down together at the family dinner table -- have healthier diets than those who don't, according to a report by Matthew Gillman, MD, an associate professor of ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

His study published in Archives of Family Medicine looked at nutritional habits of 16,000 U.S. boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 14.

Kids eating with their parents were eating less fast food, less soda, and consuming more fruits and vegetables, Gillman tells WebMD. Those kids, therefore, had a lower intake of saturated fats and carbohydrates that raise blood sugar, linked with diabetes and hardening of the arteries, he says.

And these early dietary habits affect teens' future cardiovascular health, according to another study presented at a recent meeting of heart specialists. That study showed that the more high-fat junk food teenagers ate, the worse their arteries looked -- and the more risk factors they had for heart disease.

"What kids eat in childhood and adolescence does establish their dietary patterns over the longer term," says Gillman. "This means we have to set good, healthful patterns earlier in life."

Comforts Kids, Improves Family Communication

Family dinnertime also plays an important role in parenting, says Joseph A. Califano, Jr., chairman of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Since 1996, CASA has annually surveyed 2,000 teens nationwide.

"We've found consistently on surveys that the more often teens have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol," Califano tells WebMD.

Family dinnertime is part of being a hands-on parent, he says. "Family dinner time shows that parents are engaged in the lives of their children. It gives parents an opportunity to sit and talk with kids, listen to their kids."

And it's something that kids want, Califano says, adding that as teens get older, they may say they want dinner together less often and want Mom and Dad to keep their distance. But at the same time, they often want the reassurance that their parents still care what is going on in their lives.

"They may gripe about curfews, about telling parents where they are on weekends. But in our focus groups, it's clear that kids view things like this as expressions that parents care, that they love them. I think that's a big factor in keeping them from drugs," Califano says.

A poll by the YMCA found that "not having enough time together" with their parents is a top concern among teenagers today. That poll also showed that children who never eat dinner with their families are 61% more likely than the average teen to get involved in negative activities.

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