For teens, dinner with family means healthier diet

June 11, 2003 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News

For teens, dinner with family means healthier diet

Teenagers who eat dinner with their parents are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and dairy foods than those who usually dine without the company of mom or dad, study findings from Rutgers University in New Jersey show.

Prior research has shown that children who do not eat dinner with their families are more likely to eat so-called TV dinners that require little or no preparation and that may be less nutritious. These findings suggest that family mealtimes may help adolescents eat healthier fare.

The scientists analyzed dietary information from more than 18,000 adolescents who were involved in the ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Twenty percent of the adolescents said they usually skipped breakfast. More than 70 percent said they had eaten fewer than two vegetable servings the previous day; 55 percent said they had eaten fewer than two servings of fruits; and 47 percent said they had eaten fewer than two servings of dairy foods.

Those who reported eating more than three meals a week with at least one parent present, however, were more likely to eat breakfast regularly and more likely to report healthier eating habits, the study findings indicate.

Health experts recommend that older children and adults eat three to five servings of vegetables, two to four servings of fruit and two to three servings of dairy foods every day.

Adolescents who reported eating four or five weekly meals with their parents were about 20 percent less likely than their peers to skip fruits, vegetables and dairy foods. And, the researchers note, their fruit, vegetable and dairy consumption increased along with their number of family meals.

Nearly 70 percent ate at least four family meals per week, but about 30 percent of the teens said they ate fewer than three meals with a parent present, the report indicates.

In other findings, teenagers who were allowed to make their own decisions about what they ate were 25 percent more likely to skip breakfast, but they were no more likely than their peers to report a poor intake of fruits, vegetables or dairy products.

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