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The Latest in Fight Against Childhood Obesity: Fun Family Meals

fam dinner old.jpgWant to help your child get to and stay at a healthy weight? Here's what the latest research suggests:

Have family dinners--and have fun at them.

We know that family meals can help kids eat more fruits and vegetables (my kids don't always eat them if left to their own devices). They also help kids do better in school, and help teens stay out of trouble. When it comes to preventing childhood obesity, some studies say that family meals help--while others say that they don't make a big difference.

Maybe, some Minnesota researchers said, the benefit of family dinners has to do with not just what gets served at a meal, but what goes on at the meal--who eats, where they eat, how long the meal lasts, and how people interact during the meal. So they studied 120 kids and their families, videotaping meals and interviewing them, and looking for any correlations between what the found and the weight of the children.

They found that when meals were shorter, eaten somewhere other than the kitchen or dining room, and when the TV was on during meals, that kids in the family were more likely to be overweight. But that wasn't the most interesting thing they found.

Families whose kids were at a healthy weight talked more during meals, were more positive and encouraging in the things they said, and, well, seemed to have more fun.

Here's what the authors of the study suggest parents do:
-Eat dinner together as a family, as much as possible. While longer is better, 20 minutes is fine, and that should be feasible even for busy families.
-Talk during dinner. If you're not sure what to talk about, they suggest something like having everyone tell the high and low points of their day.
-Think positive when it comes to dinner conversation. It's not the time to yell, complain or badger (even though it can be tempting, with everyone in one place). Enjoy the meal, and each other.

Now, clearly this is just a small part of a bigger picture of parenting. It's not just about mealtimes, and the study didn't look at all aspects of the children's lives. But it's worth trying this out, because even if it does nothing for your child's weight, it will make for a happier dinner--and perhaps a happier family.

Photo credit: 2008 Beverly & Pack, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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