Family meals: Good for the kids and good for you!

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A new study published this month in the journal Appetite shows that parents who eat more family meals with their kids eat more fruits and veggies.

To learn more about the results, we talked with Jerica Berge, Ph.D., a University of Minnesota Medical School assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. Berge is the lead author of the latest study, which is part of the larger, ongoing study Project EAT study examining the eating patterns of middle and high school students enrolled in Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts.

Here's what Berge had to say:

Q: Why research how family meals affect mom and dad?
Berge: We knew that adolescents and children who have regular family meals are less likely to be overweight and obese. They eat more healthfully overall in terms of consuming more fruits and vegetables, consuming less sugar-sweetened beverages, and being less likely to engage in extreme weight control behaviors that often lead to eating disorders. So, we wanted to know if the same was true for parents.

Q: What did your research find?
Berge: More frequent family meals are associated with a higher fruit and vegetable intake for moms and dads. When eating more meals together with family, dads also ate less fast food, while moms participated in less unhealthy dieting and binge eating.

Q: How many more fruits and vegetables were parents eating?
Berge: Overall, moms and dads went from eating 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day to eating 4+ servings per day. In families that ate zero meals together as compared to families that ate meals together 5+ times per week, moms specifically went from 3 to 4+ servings of fruits and vegetables. Dads went from 2 ½ servings to 4. That's a total of 1-2 more servings each day for mom or dad!

Q: So, now I know eating with my family means I'll likely eat more fruits and veggies. What now?
Berge: The take home message is that family meals may benefit everyone in the family. Less fast food for dads, less unhealthy eating for moms and more fruits and vegetables for everyone means better health all around. Don't just plan family meals to help the kids; do it for the whole family, including yourself.

(Photo courtesy of Stefano Chiarelli via creative commons license.)

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