You've heard over and over again that eating together as a family is important, and it's linked to healthier diets and less risk of overweight. But it turns out that your mood at the table can have an impact on your kids' eating too.
A new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found parents' interactions with their kids influences what the children eat. Through home visits and video observation of families with preschool-age children, researchers classified families into two groups: "Positive Expressers" were families with mostly positive emotions from mothers and kids (and low negative emotions from mothers). "All Expressers" had equal amounts of positive and negative emotions from moms and kids.
Mothers in the "Positive Expressers" group reported that their kids ate one more serving of healthy food such as fruits, vegetables, or soy-based protein foods compared to children in families with less positive mealtimes. (While this study focused on mothers' emotions, the researcher says future research will look at dads as well. Yes please.)
"Positive mealtimes have a wide range of benefits," says researcher Jaclyn Saltzman, a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. "We knew that they promoted closeness by allowing parents and children to share daily happenings. Our research has found that there are health benefits of positive mealtimes as well."
But let's face it: Happy mealtimes aren't always easy, especially when your dinner companions are overtired kids or finicky eaters. Here are some steps you can take to make mealtimes a little bit cheerier:
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.