By David Fikes, Executive Director, FMI FoundationNational Family Meals Month™ is here, and from the looks of it, it’s better than ever! FMI is very excited this year to be working with the American Heart Association in jointly encouraging family meals for the well-being of the mind, heart and body. I sat down with Cheryl Toner, MS, RDN, nutrition lead, American Heart Association, to talk about this collaboration and the many benefits of family meals. Check out highlights from our conversation below.
What are the benefits of family meals?
Regular meals at home with family reduce stress, boost self-esteem and make the whole family feel connected. In fact, research tells us that three or more meals per week together leads to a 25% increase in the feeling of family connection, while seven or more meals per week together leads to a 50% increase. This time of connection provides an opportunity to unplug and reduce stress while also making it more likely that children and adults will eat more fruits and vegetables. We also see fewer depressive symptoms and emotional difficulties in family members of all ages who regularly participate in family meals.
Let’s talk about a secret ingredient of family meals, I think you know what it is.
Yes, I do! Nothing compliments a meal better than good conversation. It’s healthy for everyone, including our youngest diners. Studies have even shown that mealtime conversation improved vocabulary more than being read aloud to. They also show that children who engage in family meals are likely to be more motivated, get better grades in school and generally get along better with their peers. I get it, it can be harder than it sounds to get the conversation started and keep it going. That’s why the American Heart Association put together some healthy conversation starters on our website for you. Just be sure you print them off or write them down before mealtime so you don’t take out any electronic devices at the table. However, after the dishes are done, we’d love to hear how it went! Share your stories using #FamilyMealsMonth and #FamilyMealsMovement on social media.
What about those who don’t have a traditional family?
Having a “traditional” family is not a prerequisite for enjoying the many benefits of a family meal. The way Americans define “family” has significantly changed since 1960, widening to include people other than significant others and children. No matter who you call family, time to connect with friends and loved ones at the dinner table will lead to improved wellness outcomes for everyone.
Why is the American Heart Association investing in this effort and where can I learn more?
Here at the American Heart Association, we know that the mind, heart and body come together at the dinner table. The American Heart Association has encouraged people to prioritize family meals for a long time and we’re proud this year to work even more closely with the FMI Foundation in jointly encouraging family meals for the well-being of the mind, heart, and body.
Throughout the fall, the American Heart Association will provide science-backed tips, recipes and more to help you connect with others and care for your physical and mental well-being. And of course, keep an eye out for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark when grocery shopping to easily spot foods that can be part of a heart-healthy eating pattern.
For more nutrition and well-being resources, visit the American Heart Association and join us for a webinar on September 15 with American Heart Association as we talk about the white paper: Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.