Q. Our kids have so many activities after school it’s hard for us all to eat together. Does this matter?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 13 January 2014.
Tagged: dinner, exercise, family fare, healthy kids, kids

Q.  Our kids have so many activities after school it’s hard for us all to eat together. Does this matter?

A. Family meals are really important – not only for nutrition but for the conversation. A large US study has confirmed that eating dinner as a family makes good nutritional sense, leading to better quality diets for older children and teens.

Based on a survey of more than 16,000 boys and girls aged nine to 14 years, the study examined dietary differences between subjects who claimed to eat dinner with their families 'every day', 'most days' or 'never or some days'.

Around one in five children never ate dinner with their family or only ate it on some days. These children were nutritionally disadvantaged compared with those who ate dinner with their family 'every day' or 'most days'.

This latter group was more likely to eat at least 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day and less likely to eat fried foods away from home, or to drink soft drink.

Not surprisingly they also had significantly better intakes of important nutrients for adolescent health such as fibre, folate, calcium, iron and vitamins B6, B12, C and E. 

The researchers suggest that the beneficial effect of family meals was not only on the type of food served, but also the influence of family conversation that could include discussions about healthy eating practices. Turning the TV off and getting kids to help set the table, serve the food (depending on their age) and clean up also matter.

These days, family meals are becoming less common but this research tells us the tradition of eating dinner together as a family is one way to improve the nutrition of older children and adolescents. A darn good reason in my book - as a mother and a nutritionist!

Reference quoted: Gillman MW et al. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents, Archives of Family Medicine, 2000; 9:235-240.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Nutrition for Life 2020 Edition is a fresh new update on all the things you've read about or heard in the last year. Think insects, collagen, vegan eating, Keto dieting, vitamin B12, fast food and cafe culture.  It has plenty of colour pictures and is easy to dip in and out of. Grab your copy NOW!