Family meals during adolescence may have a lasting positive influence on dietary quality and meal patterns in young adulthood.
Family meals probably teach teenagers how to make healthy food choices, with parents serving as a model of healthy eating. This underscores the importance of the traditional family dinner, something that has become redundant in an age of hectic schedules and take-out food. Some past studies have suggested that when parents and children regularly connect over dinner, children are less likely to take up habits like smoking and drinking.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis studied more than 1,700 teenagers, 946 female students and 764 male students, for five years, which included those who ate most meals with their families and those who did not. Teenagers who had meals with their families tended to have a more healthy diet in young adulthood. By their early 20s, these teenagers reported eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking less soda, and getting more fibre, potassium and magnesium than their peers who ate fewer meals with their families. Frequency of family meals also predicted more breakfast meals in females and for both sexes predicted more frequent dinner meals, higher priority for meal structure and higher priority for social eating.
Thus, the findings suggest that families should be encouraged to share meals as often as possible. But this does not mean picking up fast food on the way home each night. Instead, meals should include lean proteins, whole grains like brown rice, and plenty of vegetables. Water or milk should be the choice over soda, while fruits could be taken as dessert.
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