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Enjoy the many perks of family meals

If you want to help keep your family healthy and happy, a good place to start is at your kitchen or dining room table.

Studies show that when families regularly enjoy meals together, both parents and kids typically eat more nutritious foods. Kids in particular often take in more calcium, iron, fiber and vitamins—and less unhealthy fats.

That's a huge plus, since a child's eating habits can last a lifetime, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. What's more, family meals may help kids stay at a healthy weight, possibly because of all those better food choices. In one study, children who ate three or more meals every week with at least one parent had a 12% lower chance of being overweight.

Coming together

Shared mealtimes nourish families in other ways too. When you sit down together, you:

Strengthen bonds. Sit-down meals let families connect after a busy day. They're a great time to listen, share stories and even help each other through rough patches.

Boost school performance and language skills. Eating together appears to help kids do better at school. And all that table talk stimulates language development in kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens.

Help prevent risky behaviors. Studies suggest that shared meals lower the risk of smoking, substance abuse and behavior problems in kids.

Make them happen

If you're juggling work, school and activity schedules, regular family dinners may seem like a tall order. Do what you can with these family-friendly tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Be flexible. If daily meals together aren’t realistic for your family, aim to eat together at least several times a week. If shared meals are a new tradition for you, commit to at least one each week.

Plan ahead. Schedule mealtimes together. Then mark them on your collective calendars. You're less likely to have no-shows, especially if your family includes busy teens. A routine helps too. When everyone expects dinner at 6 p.m. on Sunday, they're more likely to reserve that time.

Think beyond dinner. If other commitments crowd out suppers together, how about breakfast? You could even set the table the night before for a less-rushed morning.

Keep it simple. Enjoy more time around the table and less in the kitchen by serving meals that don't require a lot of effort—maybe that's sandwiches, leftovers or a crockpot meal.

Make the most of the time

Keep the conversation positive. Ask everybody about their day and share something funny or interesting about yours. This is a time to connect, relax and recharge—not complain or nag.

Tune out distractions. Agree to make meals device free—turning off the TV and setting aside phones. That's the best way for everyone to truly be present with each other.

Set a good example. Kids mimic what they see. So make healthy food choices and don't forget your manners.

Enjoy! Shared meals are a chance to create new—and happy—family memories.

Reviewed 4/27/2020

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