By Sue Hubbard, M.D., www.kidsdr.com
I’m trying to clean up my desk, and I’ve been looking through stacks of pediatric articles I felt were really interesting. One by Dr. Barbara Howard entitled “Three Magic Words Offer Food for Thought” made a wonderful point regarding family meals and eating habits.
She states that one of the best questions to ask during a “well-child” visit only requires three words, but offers so much insight into a family’s interactions: “How are meals?” I know you know how much I believe in and promote families eating together.
There’s been a lot of data substantiating the many positive side effects that stem from family meals. Not only does eating together as a family help improve food choices, which may help prevent obesity, but it also leads to children with improved vocabulary and language skills, social skills and manners.
Family meals have also been shown to lessen the chance of risk-taking behaviors in adolescents. Also, adolescents have fewer eating disorders when they have regular family meals. When I ask children about their meals, I also get parental feedback. The biggest complaint is that kids are “picky eaters.”
Many children and parents will say that they don’t eat together as a family because everyone eats something different. I don’t think being a “short-order cook” is a job requirement of any parent.
Social worker Ally Slater delineates parents’ responsibilities with regard to food as “what, when and where” while leaving children, “how much and whether.” I love that! Parents control the grocery cart, meal and snack choices and food offerings on the plate.
It’s nice to always offer at least one food that most family members like. Once that food is offered and everyone is gathered at the table to eat, parents need to back off. Is that easier said than done? Maybe, in the beginning, but over time it actually simplifies family life.
I think it’s really fairly easy if you “buy into” the idea of family meals and know that children will make better and wider food choices when given that opportunity. It may take up to 100 times — and many months — for your child to try different foods, but eventually you’ll be pleased that you have a child who’s a healthy eater and also enjoys a wide variety of foods.
Trust me, when raised this way, your children will turn out to be great eaters as adolescents and young adults. I think my boys are less “picky” than I am! (No sushi for me).
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)