Researchers from the University of Minnesota examined the eating habits of families. They truly believed they would find a link, as many experts previously suggested, between the quality of the foods found on family tables and watching television at mealtime. But this was not the case! The television being on or off did not seem to have much bearing on the quality of the meals found on family dinner tables. Rather, the dominant factor was whether or not families actually ate meals together.
Previous studies conducted by Harvard University, as well as the universities of Minnesota and Rutgers, had already demonstrated that children and teenagers who regularly ate with their parents have healthier eating habits. Notably, they consume more fruits, vegetables and dairy products, and less junk food. The results were very interesting, but the main question remained unanswered: why does eating together as a family lead to healthier eating habits?
Hence, researchers in this new study wanted to know if the psychological health of a family had an impact on the eating habits of its members. In other words, did the members of “close-knit” families have healthier eating habits than those who were more distant and rarely ate as a family?
Researchers analysed the data collected on the eating habits of 5,000 pre-teens and teenagers in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Among this sample of kids, two out of three reported eating at least three family meals per week and among these, approximately 50% of them watched television while eating.
Whether the television was on or off, kids who ate with their family had better eating habits as a whole. Surprisingly, the difference between their eating habits and those of the kids who watched television at mealtime was not as great as researchers had actually anticipated.
In fact, it is children who never ate family meals that had the worst eating habits. The girls actually ate less fruits, vegetables and dairy products, drank more soft drinks and ate more snack foods, than those who ate with their parents. The boys who ate alone also had poorer eating habits.
Therefore, it seems that family meals are of better quality than meals eaten alone. This is likely due to the fact that parents tend to prepare more balanced and varied meals. It would also seem that people who eat alone have a greater tendency to eat less-varied meals and lower-quality foods.
Family meals also allow parents to keep the communication lines open between themselves and their children. Family meals give them greater opportunities to stay abreast of the changes going on in their children’s lives, which in itself, likely has an impact on their children’s general health.
The only way to gather your family at mealtime is to turn on the television? Well, why not! It seems it is not as bad as we previously thought. Who would have thought that television could help your children eat their carrots and peas!