Until recently, the age old
custom of family dinners in India was the norm. It's only now that this
tradition has changed mainly because of the modern lifestyle and technological
advancements. Parents are busy with their long-working-hour jobs, and kids'
schedule is jam packed with school, sports and extra curricular activities. And
then there is of course the TV, social networking sites and other
can't-do-without gadgets. No wonder, children these days may be 65 percent more
likely to have eating disorder problems and 88 percent more likely to be
According to a study published in
the journal Pediatrics
and adolescents who share family meals 3 or more times per week are more likely
to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns
than those who share fewer than 3 family meals together'.
"More frequent family dinners related to fewer
emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting
and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction,"
Frank Elgar at the Institute for Health and Social Policy and Douglas Mental
Health University Institute, McGill University, Montreal.
Frank Elgar along with Wendy Craig and Stephen J. Trites,
from Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, examined the association between
the frequency of family dinners and positive and negative dimensions of mental
health in adolescents and investigated whether this association has anything to
do with the quality of communication between parents and kids. They used the
data from 2010 Canadian Health Behaviour of School-aged Children study (part of
a World Health Organization collaboration of 43 countries) which included
26,069 adolescents, aged between 11 to 15 years.
"We were surprised to find
such consistent effects on every outcome we studied," Elgar said. "From
having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each
additional dinner related to significantly better mental health."
the outcomes were irrespective of gender, age or family affluence.
This research is not the first of
its kind. Earlier studies too indicated family meals to be associated with
improved outcomes for kids, such as, lower depressive symptoms, less likely to
be overweight, eating more healthy foods, having less delinquency, greater
academic achievement, improved psychological wellbeing, and positive family
Eliza Cook and Rachel Dunifon,
both from the Cornell University College of Human Ecology
, in their review
study of family mealtime research, recommend following ways to improve family
Set a goal to have regular family meals at least three
times per week, if possible. If not, try to substitute family dinners with
shared breakfasts, evening snacks or activities that gathers the family more
Know that the routine of family
meals can generate feelings of closeness and comfort and provide your child
Turn off the TV and cell phones
and ask your children about their day, school, friends, and such things.
Connect and share important information with your children.
Having children help prepare food
and set the table can also encourage communication during mealtime. Family
dinners and mental health are partially attributable to the ease of
communication between adolescents and parents
. This is because family
dinners can facilitate open communication by presenting opportunities for kids
to discuss social and emotional issues and coping strategies, according to the
In view of the benefits of family
dinners or breakfasts, let's revive this ritual and contribute to a healthy