Skip to content

    Health & Parenting

    Font Size

    For Kids' Sake, Make Family Meals a Habit

    Eating Meals Together as a Family Improves Children's Diets, Possibly for the Long Haul, Study Shows
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    March 10, 2009 -- Listen up, kids. Sitting down to eat with your parents night after night might seem like a drag, but over the long run, it’ll be good for you, a new study says.

    Regular family meals improve diet quality during the transition from early to middle adolescence, researchers report. And a good diet could be habit forming and carry over into adulthood.

    The researchers analyzed data on what teens eat and their weight, which can affect health.

    Students from suburban and urban public middle schools in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area completed surveys and a questionnaire in 1998-1999, when they were 12 or 13 years old. Five years later, they completed another questionnaire on their family eating habits and patterns as high schoolers.

    The study included 303 males and 374 females. Regular family meals were defined as five or more meals during the week with all or most of the family living in the house.

    Over time, regular family meals declined, the researchers say. Sixty percent of youngsters had regular family meals during early adolescence vs. 30% during middle adolescence, researchers say in the March/April issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

    The researchers say that having regular family meals was associated with a greater frequency of eating breakfast and dinner, and also increased intake of vegetables, calcium-rich food, dietary fiber, and nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

    An important finding, the researchers say, is that young people who had regular family meals when 12-13 and also five years later had better diet quality.

    “These findings suggest that having regular family meals during the transition from early to middle adolescence positively impacts the development of healthful eating behaviors for youths,” write the researchers, including Teri L. Burgess-Champoux, PhD, RD, LD, of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. “Findings from the current analysis, in conjunction with similar findings from a longitudinal analysis of older adolescents transitioning to young adulthood, strongly suggest that regular family meals have long-term nutritional benefits.”

    The authors point out that the period from 12 to the late teens is “one of the most dynamic developmental periods” during a person’s lifetime, and thus habits established in this time frame are more likely to last.

    They suggest that parents convey this information to their children and also help them learn food preparation skills so they’ll still make, eat, and even enjoy tossed salads when they grow up.

    Today on WebMD

    Girl holding up card with BMI written
    Is your child at a healthy weight?
    toddler climbing
    What happens in your child’s second year.
    father and son with laundry basket
    Get your kids to help around the house.
    boy frowning at brocolli
    Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
    mother and daughter talking
    child brushing his teeth
    Sipping hot tea
    boy drinking from cereal bowl
    hand holding a cell phone
    rl with friends
    girl being bullied
    Child with adhd