Mealtime is key to a happy family

Interaction around the dinner table makes children feel safe.

KIDS who sit down to a family meal five times weekly are 25% less likely to develop disordered eating patterns and are more likely to have healthier diets and to consume more fruit and vegetables, according to US research.

Other research, also from the US, finds young people who eat frequent family meals are less likely to be depressed.

Findings from an Irish study are worrying — eight in 10 adults here ‘speed-eat’ main meals in under 20 minutes.

According to Rennie’s Gut Feelings survey, more women (77%) than men (67%) ‘speed-feed’, despite knowing the negative effects of eating on the go. And women are twice as likely to be ‘snack guzzlers’ as men.

Psychologist Allison Keating sees the demise of the family meal as having a physical and psychological impact. “It feels safe, knowing there’s a set point in the day when you’ll sit down in a cohesive way and share conversation, relaying what has gone on during the day, its trials and tribulations,” she says. “The dinner table provides a canvas for deep psychological connection, being part of family, communication of values and importance of eating properly.”

Keating observes many teens are “eating on the run, grabbing a quick snack, food on the go”. Family meals are important at every stage of the life cycle, she says. “Even if you’re not getting much of a response from your teen, they’re getting emotional nurturing, as well as a good dinner.”

Eating on the run does not sit well with our digestive system. “The number of clients presenting at my clinic with stress and anxiety and also citing some form of digestive issue has risen dramatically — approximately 90%,” she says, adding that dinner should take at least 40 minutes.

Keating sees the dinner table as providing a secure environment where children learn routine, boundaries, turn-taking and sharing.

“Take the current Safefood campaign, which starts with the simple image of a mum putting plates on a table and the child getting half the portion the adult gets,” says Keating.

“The image is simple and clear but it’s missing for a lot of people. Sitting down together to a prepared meal is a psychological buffer to the running around we do all day.”


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