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Three tips to make family meals a staple in your home

(Photo provided)

Parents have been hungry to ask me what they can do to insure the health and well-being of their children. My response is family meals — that’s right, family meals — so let me give you some reasons why.

Family meals are for more than food

Studies have shown that family meals that occur at least three times a week have been found to improve the social-emotional health of children by providing time for children to talk about their day and how they are feeling.

Then there are the nutritious advantages of family meals in that they have been found to be 20% healthier in food content, and children who eat with their families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In fact, children who participate in family meals show a 35% decrease in eating disorders and a 12% decrease in the likelihood of becoming obese.

In addition, a child is more apt to try a new food if they see their parents enjoying that food during a family meal.

Getting your family to the dinner table

Despite these great benefits, a family meal happen may be easier said than done — so let me help provide three tips that make these meals happen more often than not:

1. Plan: Plan family meals in advance and choose a time when you know everyone in the immediate family can be there.

2. Prepare: Prepare by having your children and teens help get the meal ready — whether that’s setting the table, pouring a beverage, or helping to cook or taste test a dish you plan to serve. Being upbeat and pleasant as you prepare the meal can help rub off on your children and helps your family see the fun in working and eating together.

3. Enjoy! Enjoy the time together at the table. Make the mealtime a safe space for everyone to decompress, speak openly about their day and be together as a family. For teens, having family meals may be a chance for them to reconnect and even seek advice and counsel that they might not otherwise seek.

Hopefully tips like these will be a just dessert when it comes to recognizing the importance for you and your children to enjoy a family meal together at least several times a week.

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Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine.

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