When I think back to my childhood I remember family dinners as a time for sharing stories, talking about my day and of course eating delicious home cooked meals together. Family meals and eating together has been the interest of many studies to do with childhood obesity and mental health. Family dinners are becoming less common nowadays and of the over 9,000 year 9 to 14 children surveyed in the recent NZ Families Commission report,
Eating together at mealtimes, 23% reported they had shared a family meal 2 times or less in the previous week. It was reported in the survey that dinners are often eaten in front of the TV, more mums going back to work and families eating convenient takeaway foods instead of home cooked meals.
The results finds fewer meals are being prepared in the family home and a higher consumption of convenience and fast foods, children are not getting the essential nutrition from food that family meals once provided. Family meals are thought to improve the nutritional intakes of children and young people, as meals prepared at home are generally healthier than those prepared outside the home.
It's not just diets that are improved by families eating dinners together; the mental health of kids who eat dinners with their families is also better. The report finds that families who engage in conversation and share meals are helping to protect against depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
So the proof is in the pudding. It appears that eating together as a family is one characteristic of a healthy family environment as it reduces the risk of obesity or related illness in children, improves nutritional intake and helps to protect against depression and mental health.
By Kali Brydon BSC Human Nutritionist