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.”


Lifestyle

Aileen Lee meets Christina Kenny - co-founder and design director of Lamb Design - to talk about her work and inspirations.Christina Kenny of Lamb Design: ‘I love bringing the outside in and inside out’

Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her career and the worth of luxury fastion. By Paul McLachen.From Marc Jacobs to her own label, Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her life in fashion

The recent sentencing of two teenage boys for the murder of Ana Kriégel has once again brought the issue of pornography into public discourse. The details of the case, which are finally coming into public knowledge, illuminate some very worrying trends that are pervasive in the modern adolescent world and as parents and indeed as a society we can no longer languish in complacency.Learning Points: Hardcore porn can pollute our children’s minds

HUSBAND and wife Justin and Jenny Green run Ballyvolane House, in Castlelyons, Co Cork. The mansion and former dairy farm, which was built in 1728, is where Justin grew up. Raised to Scottish parents in Hong Kong, Jenny met fellow hotelier Justin while working in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Having worked in the UK and Bali, they returned to manage Ballyvolane House, as an Irish country house, in 2004.Parents for the Planet: Green family has greener outlook at country house

More From The Irish Examiner