Family dinners improve teens' eating habits no matter how well family functions, study finds

November 21, 2018, University of Guelph
Kathryn Walton. Credit: University of Guelph

A new University of Guelph study has revealed teenagers and young adults who sit down for family dinners—regardless of how well the family unit manages daily routines, communicates and connects emotionally—are more likely to have healthier eating habits than if they graze or fend for themselves at suppertime.

"Gathering around the is sort of a magical thing," said lead researcher Kathryn Walton, dietitian and U of G Ph.D. student who worked on the study with relations and applied nutrition professor Jess Haines.

"It's a time when families can slow down from their busy days to talk, spend time together and problem-solve. It's also a time that parents can model healthful eating behaviours."

The found that when families sit down together, adolescents and eat more fruits and veggies and consume fewer fast-food and takeout items.

The study to be published Nov. 21 in JAMA Network Open looked at more than 2,700 participants 14 to 24 years of age who were living with their parents in 2011. They were asked how often they sat down for dinner with their families, how well their family functions, and about their consumption of fruit and vegetables, sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food and takeout food.

The study found that are associated with better for adolescents from both high and low functioning families.

"To reap the many benefits of family dinners, the meal doesn't have to be a big drawn-out affair," said Haines. "Even if it's something you pull out of the freezer, add a bagged salad on the side and you'll have a decent nutritional meal."

Walton said many teens and young adults living at home are busy with evening or part-time jobs, making it hard to find time for with family members. But finding that time once a day—even if it's breakfast together—can be just as effective.

She also said when family members participate in helping to prepare food, they are more likely to eat it. Getting the whole family involved helps cut down on prep-time and teaches adolescents important food skills. Every meal together counts, start with one and sit down together more frequently as the family schedule allows.

Walton, who is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, said she hopes to study ways to make it easier for busy families to have meals together. She said prepping weekly meals on the weekend can help families avoid heading for the drive-through window when bellies start to grumble.

"Our research found that family dinners are a great way to improve the dietary intake of the whole family, regardless of how well the family functions together," said Walton. "Preparing and enjoying a meal together can also help families bond. It's a win-win."

Explore further: The family that eats together, benefits

More information: JAMA Network Open (2018). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5217

Related Stories

The family that eats together, benefits

May 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—No doubt that work, school and outside activities can make it hard to schedule regular family dinners. But research has shown that eating together on a regular basis helps to bond families and build good communication.

Frequency of family meals increased by a new school presentation

August 18, 2015
New research shows that teaching young adolescents practical cooking skills leads to positive changes for the entire family. In an article published today in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, an NRC Research ...

Teens who dine with their families may be slimmer adults

October 24, 2014
(HealthDay)—For those teens who try to avoid spending time with their parents and siblings, new research suggests that sitting down for family meals might help them stay slim as adults.

Science says eat with your kids

January 9, 2015
As a family therapist, I often have the impulse to tell families to go home and have dinner together rather than spending an hour with me. And 20 years of research in North America, Europe and Australia back up my enthusiasm ...

Adolescents' cooking skills strongly predict future nutritional well-being

April 17, 2018
Evidence suggests that developing cooking and food preparation skills is important for health and nutrition, yet the practice of home cooking is declining and now rarely taught in school. A new study published in the Journal ...

Frequent family meals promote good nutritional health in children

January 19, 2018
Successful obesity prevention starts at home – at the family dinner table. The results of a meta-analysis conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Mannheim have been published in ...

Recommended for you

A co-worker's rudeness can affect your sleep—and your partner's, study finds

December 14, 2018
Rudeness. Sarcastic comments. Demeaning language. Interrupting or talking over someone in a meeting. Workplace incivilities such as these are becoming increasingly common, and a new study from Portland State University and ...

A holiday gift to primary care doctors: Proof of their time crunch

December 14, 2018
The average primary care doctor needs to work six more hours a day than they already do, in order to make sure their patients get all the preventive and early-detection care they want and deserve, a new study finds.

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jim4321
not rated yet Nov 23, 2018
Am getting really old. I thought the picture of the researcher was supposed to be one of the hungry teens that the article wrote about. Doctors and researchers are getting a lot younger every year.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.