Harley Pasternak: The Power of Family Meals

04/25/2014 at 01:30 PM ET

Family Dinner
Andersen Ross/Getty

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

We’ve all heard that it’s important to have family dinners, but as it turns out, they may have an even bigger impact than once thought on the health and happiness of your whole clan (and no, sitting down as a family in front of the TV doesn’t count). Here are some major benefits of family meals:

Healthier Weight in Children and Adults
Families that eat together without the television or video games on and stay at the table until everyone’s finished have children with lower weights and body mass indexes. [1][2] Additionally, adults and kids who eat as a family are 12 percent less likely to be overweight. [3]

Better Eaters
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, family meals may promote healthier eating. Children and young adults who have regular meals with their families consume more fruits, vegetables and fiber and less fried food and soft drinks than those who don’t, and consume fewer total calories. [4][5][6] Their diets are also higher in many key nutrients, like calcium and iron. [7]

Prevention of Behavioral Problems and Substance Abuse
A study on the relationship between certain family characteristics and adolescent problem behaviors, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that teens that have frequent family meals are less likely to exhibit a variety of behavioral problems including violence, running away and substance abuse. [8]

In fact, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, compared to teens who eat family dinners often, “those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are three-and-a-half times likelier to have abused prescription drugs, three-and-a-half times likelier to have used an illegal drug other than marijuana or prescription drugs, three times likelier to have used marijuana, more than two-and-a-half times likelier to have used tobacco, and one-and-a-half times likelier to have used alcohol.” [9] That’s huge!

Improved Psychological Health
Studies show that children who eat with their families frequently are less likely be depressed or consider suicide, or develop an eating disorder. [10] They are also more likely to delay sexual activity, and report that their parents feel proud of them. [11]

Better Academic Performance
There is an abundance of research out there that shows that kids who eat meals with their families regularly do better in school. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) found that teens “who have dinner with their families seven times a week are almost 40 percent likelier to say they receive mostly A’s and B’s in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families two or fewer times a week.” [11]

Slimmer Waists, Fatter Wallets
According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, food prepared away from home, including food eaten in restaurants, fast food and take-out or delivery to be eaten at home, accounts for 41 percent of American food expenditures and 32 percent of our caloric intake (it was around 17 percent of our caloric intake in the late 1970s). [12]

Tell us: Do you have regular family dinners? Do you see any benefits? 

Sources:

[1] Wansink, B. and van Kleef, E. (2013), Dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI. Obesity. doi: 10.1002/oby.20629

[2] “Dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI.” N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014

[3] Fiese, B. & Hammons, A. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 127, 1565-1574.

[4] The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

[5] Gillman M, Rifas-Shiman S, Frazier L, Rockett H, Camargo C, Field A, et al. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Arch Fam Med 2000;9:235-240.

[6] Eat Well, for Your Children’s Sake – Online Medical … (n.d.)

[7] http://getmovinggethealthynj.rutgers.edu/increase/family+meals/

[8] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/258163.php

[9] http://www.casacolumbia.org/download/file/fid/361

[10] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/258163.php

[11] http://www.casacolumbia.org/newsroom/press-releases/2005-family-dinners-2

[12] http://www.ers.usda.gov/ersDownloadHandler.ashx?file=/media/977765/summaryeib105.pdf

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Showing 3 comments

Macy on

So to sum this up, poor family bonds create all kinds of health and societal problems. Spend time with your family, or else! See, my way is faster :)

guest on

This is incredible – I didn’t have dinners with family as a high schooler and I see some of the effects I went through her. Conversely, I have dinner with my young kids every night just to try to get them talking. They complain about the food and have difficulty sitting down – but I’ll keep trying!

Jo on

Thanks for providing the sources cited. Love seeing this addition!

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