Study: Family dinners improve teens eating habits

It doesn’t matter if you’re a family who fights or a family who hugs it out — if a family sits down together for dinner every night, teenagers and young adults will develop healthier eating habits than if they’d been left to forage for food on their own, according to a new University of Guelph study. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it examined 2,700 participants ages 14 to 24.

The study found that sit-down family dinners were linked to better dietary intake from both “high-functioning and low-functioning” families.

“Gathering around the dinner table is sort of a magical thing,” said lead researcher Kathryn Walton.

“Our research found that family dinners are a great way to improve the dietary intake of the whole family, regardless of how well the family functions together,” Walton added. “Preparing and enjoying a meal together can also help families bond. It’s a win-win.”

Some more findings:

  • The meal doesn’t have to be elaborate, just adequately nutritious.
  • If a family is too busy around dinnertime, having that daily meal at breakfast works, too.
  • If a family member pitches in to help prepare a meal, there’s a better chance that they’ll actually eat it.

“Dietary intake” refers to a person’s daily eating patterns, including foods and calories — in other words, their habits. Healthy eating habits — that is, until they grow up, move to the city, and discover GrubHub.

“To reap the many benefits of family dinners, the meal doesn’t have to be a big drawn-out affair,” said family relations and applied nutrition professor Jess Haines. “Even if it’s something you pull out of the freezer, add a bagged salad on the side and you’ll have a decent nutritional meal.”