Three meals a week keeps kids’ eating habits in check.
While you may not be able to control what your local school district is feeding your child, you could make a huge difference in their eating habits with the simple act of just sitting down to dinner as a family. Children and teenagers who do so at least three times per week are less likely to be overweight, eat junk food or develop eating disorders.
I know what you’re thinking: You’re busy and don’t have time to cook dinner. But with 44 percent of Black children ages two to 17 overweight, sitting down to two or three meals a week is definitely something worth making time for. Exercise is great, but if kids aren’t eating right it isn't enough.
Allowing children to become overweight or obese puts them at unnecessary risk for a variety of different health problems like asthma, sleep apnea, skin infections and joint pain. Even though they’re young, they could develop high blood pressure or even type 2 diabetes. These two conditions in particular can have devastating long-term effects on their health as adults.
Research also points to obese children being depressed and having lower self-esteem and confidence than their thinner classmates. Asa a result they often don’t do as well in school and have fewer friends.
The research focused on 17 past studies, surveying a total of 182,836 children ages 2 to 17. The study found that the children who participated in the family meals had a 12 percent less chance of being overweight, 20 percent less of a chance of regularly eating unhealthy foods and 35 percent less of a chance of developing disordered eating habits like purging, using diet pills, skipping meals or smoking cigarettes to control their weight. The kids were actually 24 percent more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables, have breakfast and to take a multivitamin.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has you covered on how your family can get started on the right track towards health:
—Eat at least five fruits and vegetables every day.
—Get at least an hour of exercise a day; it doesn’t even have to be all at once.
—Don’t let children watch more than two hours of TV a day.
—Limit consumption of sugary sweetened beverages.
—Always eat breakfast.
—Buy low-fat dairy products when you can.
—Eat a diet rich in calcium and high in fiber.
—Breastfeed exclusively until your child is six months old, maintaining feedings after introducing solid food until they’re one year old.
(Photo: John Moore/Getty)