GUELPH, Ontario — It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but for teens, it very well may be dinner. A new study finds that teenagers and young adults who regularly sit down for family dinners demonstrate healthier eating habits — even if their family is dysfunctional.
Researchers from the University of Guelph say that when teenagers dine together at home with their families, they generally consume more fruits and vegetables, and eat less fast food and takeout.
“Gathering around the dinner table is sort of a magical thing,” argues lead researcher Kathryn Walton, dietitian and PhD student, in a news release. “It’s a time when families can slow down from their busy days to talk, spend time together and problem-solve. It’s also a time that parents can model healthful eating behaviors.”
The study examined over 2,700 individuals between the ages of 14 and 24 who were living with their parents in 2011. Participants were asked how often they sat down for dinner with their families, how well their families functioned, and about how much fruit and vegetables they ate regularly. They also noted how frequently they consumed with sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, and takeout orders.
Researchers found that family dinners improved overall nutrition no matter how well the family connects emotionally, manages daily routines, and communicates.
“To reap the many benefits of family dinners, the meal doesn’t have to be a big drawn-out affair,” notes co-author Jess Haines, a family relations and applied nutrition professor. “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.”
While families and teens often find themselves wrestling with busy schedules, Haines says just one meal per day together, even breakfast, can help improve teen nutrition. She adds that when family members also take part in the food preparation, they’re more likely to actually eat what they’re cooking up.
“Preparing and enjoying a meal together can also help families bond. It’s a win-win,” she says.
The study was published in November 21, 2018 in the JAMA Network Open.