Nutrition month — what’s for dinner?

by 1st Lt. Lindsey Leitz
86th Aerospace Medicine Squadron

When the topic of nutrition comes up, many of us automatically think about our own individual nutrition goals.  However, since March is National Nutrition Month, I’d like to direct our focus toward a larger theme — the family meal.

It turns out the simple act of eating together can have a tremendously positive and lasting impact on every family member.  Interestingly, these positive benefits are attributed to family interaction around the table.

So, what kind of benefits are we talking about?  Let’s start with the obvious — nutrition. Did you know that families who eat together eat better? It’s true. Families who eat together tend to get more fruits, vegetables and fiber in their diets. They also tend to eat less fried foods and fewer calories.

In addition to healthier food, family meals provide parents the perfect opportunity to teach life-long, food-related skills that do not come instinctively to children. Kids learn skills such as meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and setting the table.  They expand their vocabularies by listening to other family members.  They learn mealtime manners and social etiquette such as not speaking with their mouths full or interrupting.  Using their parents as role models, kids mimic behaviors such as the openness to try new foods and eating appropriate portions.

The benefits of family meals are not limited to just young children. There is a surprising link between family meals and risky behavior in teens.  According to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who eat two or less family dinners per week are four times more likely to use tobacco, two times as likely to use alcohol and two-and-a-half times more likely to use marijuana.  However, all the benefits this precious time has to offer can be lost in the wrong environment.

Do not use this time to deal with issues of conflict. Save the discussions about chores, homework or grades for later. This might prove difficult for many families since mealtime is the only time everyone is together. Even so, mealtimes should be positive experiences. If not, the meal may end quickly, may not happen at all or could trigger emotional coping mechanisms that involve poorer food choices (food avoidance or food for comfort).

Remember that the key to all of this is family interaction. Turn off the TV. Put away the phones. Ensure all family members are at the table and stay there throughout the meal (even if they are not eating).

Whether your family mealtime happens around the kitchen table, out at a restaurant or in the car between soccer and band practice, the important thing is it is happening. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make it perfect; just make it a priority. Any mealtime together is better than none. The whole family will reap the benefits.

For more nutrition information, contact Health Promotion at 06371-47-4292.