In a new study, researchers found turning the TV off, taking time to eat and not arguing at the table are very important for a healthy family meal.
Their findings can serve as guidelines for parents and guardians wanting to help their children establish healthy eating habits.
The research was conducted by a team from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Mannheim.
A greater frequency of family meals is known to be associated with better nutritional health in children.
Previous research has already shown that children from families who eat together more often have a lower body mass index (BMI) and eat more healthily overall.
But what exactly it is about family meals that make them so important for children’s nutritional health?
To answer the question, the team conducted a meta-analysis of studies looking at the qualitative aspects of family meals.
They identified six components of family meals that are related to better nutritional health in children and found that a positive atmosphere at mealtimes is just as important as healthy food.
Children who help to prepare meals or whose parents set a good example with their own eating habits also eat more healthily.
The length of the meal and switching off the TV also play an important role.
The team says how family members eat together is just as important as, or even more important than, how often they eat together.
Further studies are needed to find out whether the findings can be generalized—for example, to the use of smartphones or tablets during meals or to other settings such as school meals.
The lead author of the study is Mattea Dallacker of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
The study is published in Health Psychology.
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