Family meals have numerous positive impacts, including improving children's school grades, reducing risk for overweight and obesity, and increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Now, one more benefit can be added to the list: improved mental health for teens. Analysis of the 2010 Canadian Health Behaviour of School-aged Children study of 26,069 adolescents (aged 11 to 15 years), published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, shows frequency of family dinners is inversely related to internalizing and externalizing symptoms and directly related to emotional well-being, prosocial behavior, and life satisfaction. And a key influence is teen-parental communication during meals.
Busy, varied schedules sometimes get in the way of family meals, but try to set a goal of dining together as a family several times per week. Make meal time enjoyable and save tough issues for another time to minimize conflict. Plan ahead and keep the menu simple. Order home delivery or take-out, if necessary, to preserve meal time. It's the together time that counts.