I was fortunate to grow up with family dinnersReal family dinners, with scratch cooked food and every member of the family at the same table most nights.  The TV was in another room.  There was no texting or cell phones going off.  It was a time to enjoy a hot meal, and catch up on what everyone had done that day at work and at school.

And it is where I learned to eat my vegetables.

I may not have liked every meal, but my dad was there to tell me that my mom had made it and I had better eat it.  I was expected to manage at least a few fork-fulls.  This was not torture, just good old-fashioned parenting.  And I am certain it helped develop my palate.  Eventually I learned to love mustard greens.  (Okay, okay, I still hate okra.)

But there were sensible adjustments too.  My younger brother wouldn’t eat cooked carrots, so on nights when beautifully buttered and parsleyed  carrots were served, he received crunchy raw carrot sticks.  And he ate them.  I am sure there were numerous substitutions that I am just not aware of because I was young and my mom was doing the cooking, but we always had at least two vegetables on our plate – and the encouragement to eat them.

This is a tradition that I have worked to continue.  I may not be able to get everyone around the table every night due to work schedules, but we do it as often as we can, even if dinner has to wait until later than I would like.  I try to keep distractions to a minimum, and there are always vegetables on our plates.  I am convinced that this has helped my son to develop a love for a wide range of foods, including vegetables.

A new U.K. study supports this.  According to Meaghan Christian, of the University of Leeds School of Food Science and Nutrition in England, and colleagues, eating dinner together helps children eat more nutritious fruits and vegetables that they would have otherwise.  In their analysis of 2383 children, those with families that ate dinner together every night consumed 1.6 more servings of fruits and vegetables than children that did not get to eat dinner together with their family.

Family meals “provide conversational time for families, incentives to plan a meal, and an ideal environment for parents to model appropriate mealtime behavior,” Christian and colleagues wrote.  They further added that “dietary habits are established in childhood.”

I must agree that having dinner together encourages me to make meal planning a priority.  If everyone is gathering together to eat from actual plates, then those plates need to hold balanced meals, with plenty of vegetables on them.

Our children model our behavior.  Just as they may pick up on how we treat others, they pick up on how we treat food and mealtimes.  So do what you can to model healthy eating habits.  If you can’t get everyone around the dinner table most nights, do it as often as you can.  And as you gather your children together for a family meal, make it delicious and enjoyable.  The effort will be worth it, with healthier and happier kids.

How do you encourage healthier eating habits in your kids?  Please share your wisdom by posting your comments below.

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