Wiley believes families should try to
have at least four shared dinners a week because of the
communication, relaxing and renewing of family bonds that occur when
families eat together. Many teachable moments happen at mealtime.
And parents have a vital role to play
as nutritional role models, she said. Children who eat meals with
their families learn more than just table manners.
She cited research that showed that
children with slender parents have a 10 percent chance of being
overweight, while children with two overweight parents have an 80
percent chance of being overweight.
"Children really do model their eating
patterns on those of their parents," she said.
Children who eat meals with their
families tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, more foods that are
higher in important nutrients and fiber, and fewer prepared foods
that are high in fat and high in sugar, she said.
They are also likely to consume more
milk and dairy products, said Wiley. Recent studies have found that
children who drink milk are less likely to be obese and develop
insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.
"When kids drink too many high-calorie,
nutrient-free beverages like soda, they don't have room for
nutrient-rich foods and beverages," Wiley said. Many researchers
link the increase in snack and soda consumption to the obesity
epidemic, she said.
Parents can encourage good eating
habits at home with the decisions they make when they shop for
groceries, the foods they choose to serve at mealtime and the snack
foods they make available in the refrigerator.
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Wiley suggested involving the entire
family in meal preparation because children are more likely to eat
meals they help plan or prepare. Older children can plan menus, shop
for groceries, and prepare main dishes or entire meals; younger
children can chop vegetables; and very young children can tear
lettuce or set the table.
Nutritious appetizers, such as carrots
and dip, take the edge off children's hunger and ease the pressure
on parents during the before-dinner rush hour.
Parents can also influence healthful
food choices in restaurants -- even fast-food restaurants, she said.
Parents should avoid high-fat or fried foods, use ketchup and other
condiments sparingly, share desserts, and model taking part of a
restaurant meal home when portions are enormous.
Wiley advocates establishing family
guidelines for restaurant meals. These might include a choice of
low-fat milk or water, giving children two or three nutritious foods
to choose from, or deciding that every fifth meal out, children can
order what they want within reason.
Most of all,
the family life specialist urges parents not to give up on family
mealtimes, no matter how hectic schedules are. Important information
about nutrition and other values is communicated when families eat
meals together, so parents should make eating together a priority,
[University of Illinois news