Healthy Eating As A Family This School Year Special To MD Monthly August 18, 2016 Children's Increasing the frequency of home-prepared meals to be eaten together as a family is a great goal that has numerous benefits for both the short and long term. Think back to those scenes in “Leave it to Beaver” when the family gathered at the table for dinner. Turning back the clock might seem like a near impossibility with our fast-paced lives of today, but there is ample research to support the importance of family-centered homemade meals for well-being of both the body and mind. Dinnertime is often the best time of the day for families to gather. Minimizing distractions, like TV, with a rule that there are no Ipads, laptops or cell phones at the table lends itself to great family conversations. It’s this communication that binds families and can promote positive self-esteem in children. One study showed that children were about 40 percent less likely to bully other children when their parents shared ideas and talked to their children frequently. Eating together gives parents a chance to model healthy eating behaviors for their children, so parents, make sure to get your servings of fruits and vegetables, too. Several studies have shown a link between frequent family meals and academic achievement. Research demonstrated that children who eat meals with their families were exposed to a more diverse vocabulary and which promotes language development and later success in school. This effect even extends into older students. A study from Columbia University showed that teens who consume meals frequently with their families were more likely to get As and Bs in their classes. “One study showed that children were about 40 percent less likely to bully other children when their parents shared ideas and talked to their children frequently” Family mealtimes together have been shown to have positive health benefits. A study from Harvard University showed families who ate together almost every day consumed diets higher in many important nutrients and lower in fat than families who rarely ate meals together. A research review published in the journal Pediatrics found that children and adolescents who eat three or more meals with their families per week are 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods and 12 percent less likely to be overweight than peers who do not eat with their families as often. So how do we increase healthy family meals with all we have going on in our busy lives? Here a couple of ideas to help make this goal a reality this school year. When there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to prepare meals, keep it simple and incorporate basic nutrition. It’s so nice to walk into the house and sit down to ready-to-eat crock-pot meals that include meat and vegetables. Serve a whole grain roll, a fruit and a glass of low-fat milk and all the food groups are covered. Purchase a freshly roasted chicken and serve up quick and nutritious sides. Vegetables can be served raw with our without low fat dip. “Children and adolescents who eat three or more meals with their families per week are 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods” Heating up frozen vegetables, or serving ready-to-go salads makes getting a meal on the table doable. Ready-made sauces can help with mealtime variety and flavor. Cooking a double batch of favorites and freezing half for later can be a big help to solve dinner dilemmas days ahead. Although having home-prepared family meals more often takes time and planning, both the nutritional and non-nutritional advantages make this a worthy and excellent goal for 2016 and beyond. As for school lunches, children can bring their own lunches to school at least three times per week. Meals prepared at home are healthier because you know exactly what ingredients are used in their preparation. They are lower in salt, preservatives and overall calories. When packing school lunches, make sure your child has both a fruit and vegetable in their lunch bag. Grape tomatoes, baby carrots, soy beans are a great, easy-to-grab option for your child’s lunch. Take a little extra time when you get back from the grocery store to portion out baggies of grapes, strawberries, carrots, etc. If these options are easy to grab, they will be eaten and are less likely to go to waste. *This information is intended for general knowledge and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Shimona Thakrar, DO, MPH, FAAP, is a Pediatric Hospitalist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock. For more information call 512.509.0100 or visit scrubbingin.com.