The Family Table: Invite Your Teens to Join You

You’ll be surprised at the benefits of eating together

Pouting teen

Eating with the family on a regular basis can help your teens make healthy decisions during adolescence and beyond.

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Turns out that teens share more than food at family meals.

“About 75 percent of teens say that they actually talk to their parents at dinner about what is going on in their lives. And 80 percent of parents agree that they feel more connected to their child through family meals,” says Cleveland Clinic pediatrician Allison Brindle, MD.

Nourishing healthy attitudes

Research shows that teens who have regular family meals (five or more per week) are less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use marijuana than those who have infrequent family meals (none, or one or two times per week).

They also tend to have:

  • Higher grades
  • Better psychological adjustment
  • Lower rates of early-onset sexual behavior
  • Decreased risk for suicide
  • Less likelihood of dysfunctional eating, such as binging and purging

“This is the result of good communication,” Dr. Brindle says.

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Forget perfection

She cautions that it is important to have reasonable expectations. Some meals will bring more quality family time than others.

“Families are dynamic, and we all bring our stresses from the day to the table,” she says. “Sometimes part of the family meal means letting go of our visions of perfection and just trying to enjoy our time together as a family.”

It doesn’t have to be dinner

If work or extracurricular activities keep teens out of the house in the evening, have family meals at breakfast or lunch, or on weekends.

“It’s about that role modeling and that communal time,” Dr. Brindle says.

Even snack time can be an opportunity for everyone to sit down together.

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Focus on the big picture

Overall, she says, the most important goal of family meals is to connect with your teens. Don’t let the details prevent that from happening.

“There are no rules. Take it all in and make it work best for your family,” she concludes.

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