Following more than 10 years of research, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University consistently found that kids who eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs.

Following more than 10 years of research, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University consistently found that kids who eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs.

In 2001, CASA launched the annual Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™ to remind parents that frequent family dinners make a difference. Family Day (September 27, 2010) focuses attention on the importance of eating and talking together at mealtime. According to a University of Missouri Extension Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, family meals are not only a simple, effective tool to help prevent substance abuse in kids, many studies show that family meals are good for children’s nutrition as well.

“Many child experts indicate that regular family meals are one of the best ways to help children and teens be fit, healthy, and ready to succeed,” says Lynda Johnson, M.S., R.D. with University of Missouri Extension. Young people who spend more time eating and talking with their families are more likely to do well in school, more likely to have a healthy weight and get the nutrition they need. They are also less likely to use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and less likely to develop eating disorders.

Family mealtime helps foster a sense of connectedness for children and provides an opportunity to focus on family communication. Positive conversations at mealtime strengthen family relationships, share family values and help parents understand the challenges that children face today.

Johnson promotes family meals as both an opportunity for family interactions, but also the ideal setting to teach children the benefits of healthful eating.

“Use mealtime for nutrition show-and-tell,” she suggests. “Show kids how to eat slowly and enjoy their food, while also talking about how eating healthy foods helps you grow strong and have the energy needed to play hard.”

Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™ encourages family meals “even if you aren’t a great cook.” The focus should be on the time interacting together, not on creating an elaborate meal.

The meal can be as simple as ordering a pizza or picking up a rotisserie chicken, cooking a vegetable, and preparing a salad - the “semi-homemade” approach.

Johnson agrees, and emphasizes that “planning” is really the key to family meals that taste great and take little preparation time during busy work weeks.

A great tool for planning delicious nutrient-rich family meals can be found at USDA’s My Pyramid (www.mypryamid.gov/), where you will find a 7-day My Pyramid menu plan.

Johnson indicates that planning meals together offers many of the same benefits as eating together. Busy families can start simple at first and schedule one or two meals a week together. Once a routine is established, the family can gradually increase the number of meals to as many as possible.

Involve children in making food decisions, especially when it comes to vegetables, such as giving them a choice, do you want broccoli or carrots for dinner? Assign each family member a task like making the salad, setting the table, preparing the beverages, or slicing fruit for dessert. Other sources for meal planning include the Meals Matter website from California Dairy Council (www.mealsmatter.org/) where you can find options in several categories including “Quick to Prepare” (under 30 minutes), “Simple” (6 or fewer ingredients), and “Kids Can Help Make It.”



Lynda Johnson is a nutrition and health education specialist at (660) 584-3658 or e-mail johnsonl@missouri.edu or visit extension.missouri.edu.



Sources: www.CASAfamilyday.org; Eat Right Montana, September 2007; Enriching Family Mealtimes Tool Kit, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; “Family Meals,” by Kim Leon and Leanne Spengler