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The Benefits of Family Meals 37646

If you're like most harried parents, getting dinner on the table—and your family to the table—is no small feat. But having regular family meals has so many benefits for kids and parents alike.

Studies suggest that regular family meals helps kids of all ages maintain a healthy body weight, consume higher quality diets and have better eating habits. Older children who eat with their families may also be less likely to use alcohol or tobacco or abuse drugs. Teen girls are also less inclined to binge, purge, diet or otherwise engage in disordered eating behaviors. A recent study even suggests that children who have family meals during which they talk more as a family in a more pleasant atmosphere have less depressive symptoms.

Parents can also reap some benefits from family meals beyond feeling more in touch and connected with their children. One study found that parents who had more family meals ate more fruits and vegetables--something many of us lack in our diets. The study also found that more family meals were associated with less fast food intake among fathers, and less dieting or binge eating among mothers.

To help families reclaim dinnertime, Aviva Goldfarb, author of The Six O'Clock Scramble, created the Family Dinner Challenge—even Jamie Oliver has become a fan! Here are some highlights from our recent conversation.

EZ: What drove you to start the Family Dinner Challenge? 

AG: Ten years ago I launched The Six O'Clock Scramble to help families get healthier, homemade dinners on the table with a lot less stress and expense. Although the idea has caught on with tens of thousands of people,  families still tell me that they don't have time to make dinner a priority or don't know where to start. In honor of The Six O'Clock Scramble's 10th anniversary, I launched the Family Dinner Challenge.

The goal of the challenge is to have 10,000 families commit to eating dinner together at least three times a week for four weeks between now and September. Each family that takes the challenge will receive all the tools needed to be successful in the challenge—weekly menus, recipes and grocery lists, a chart to keep track of their dinners eaten together, conversation starters, and more. We're also offering incredible prizes from Vitamix, Cuisinart, Zojirushi Rice Cooker and Dole for those who complete the challenge.

EZ: What do you tell parents who think their families are too busy to eat together?

AG: I understand that work and extracurricular activities make it a challenge for families to eat together. But because of the endless nutritional and emotional benefits family meals provide, I encourage families to find a way to tweak their schedules and have dinner a bit later or earlier on some nights. Families can also benefit by making it a point to sit down together for a bowl of fruit when everyone is home. For families who find it impossible to have meals together during the week, I encourage making Sunday dinners a special occasion. At these meals, families can agree to disconnect from technology, turn off the TV and just make quality time to connect with each other over a nourishing meal. If they can manage more than one night together, even better—it's not an all or nothing proposition. Also, some families find it much easier to sit down together for breakfast rather than dinner—that can also have so many health and other benefits for families.

Does the whole family have to eat together to be successful in The Family Dinner Challenge?

Families can define the "family dinner" as any dinner that includes at least one parent or caregiver sitting down for a meal with at least one child. Having everyone together every night is not always possible for many families, so it's perfectly fine to redefine the family dinner to suit your family's needs. The simple act of sitting down together, making eye contact with one another, and having conversation or playing silly games provides huge benefits for kids and their parents.

For more information on The Family Food Challenge and to learn more Aviva, go to the Six O'Clock Scramble web site here.

What's your biggest obstacle when it comes to eating as a family?

Image of family smiling at the dinner table via Shutterstock.