I am trying to clean up my desk and I have been looking through stacks of pediatric articles that I felt were really interesting.
An article by Dr. Barbara Howard entitled “Three Magic Words Offer Food for Thought” made a wonderful point regarding family meals and eating habits. She states that one of the best questions to ask a child during a “well-child” visit only requires three words, but offers so much insight into a family’s interactions. What are the magic words? “How are your meals?” I know you know how much I believe in, and promote, families eating together. There has been a lot of data substantiating the many positive side effects that stem from family meals.
You can look at some of the studies by going to The Promoting Family Meals Project, http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/CFP/promotingfamilymeals. Not only does eating together as a family help improve food choices which may help prevent obesity, it also leads to children who have improved vocabulary and language skills, social skills and manners.
Family meals have also been shown to lessen the chance of risk taking behaviors in adolescents. There has also been an association with fewer eating disorders among adolescents who have regular family meals. So, when I ask children about their meals, I also get parental feedback. The biggest complaint is that their children are “picky eaters”. Many children and parents will say that they don’t eat together as a family as everyone eats something different. I don’t think being a “short order cook” is a job requirement of any parent.
Social worker Ally Slater, delineates parent’s responsibilities with regard to food as “what, when and where” while leaving children, “how much and whether”. I love that!! Parents control the grocery cart, meal and snack choices and food offerings on the plate. It is nice to always offer at least one food that most family members like. Once that food is offered and we are gathered together to eat, parents need to back off. Is that easier said than done? Maybe in the beginning, but over time it actually simplifies family life.
I think it is really fairly easy if you “buy into” the idea of family meals and know that children will make better and wider food choices if given that opportunity. It may take up to 100 times, and many months for your child to try different foods, but eventually you will be pleased that you have a child who is a healthy eater, and who also enjoys a wide variety of foods. Trust me, your children when raised this way, really turn out to be great eaters as adolescents and young adults. I think my boys are less “picky” than I am! (no sushi for me).
Make family meal time a priority. Your children will respect the rules, learn table manners, and enjoy dinnertime conversation, while eventually developing a more mature palate. It just takes time.
That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.