October is National Eat Better, Eat Together month, which is a campaign to increase the awareness of the benefits of families eating together. Meals are likely to be more nutritious, and children are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains when families eat together. Maximizing the nutritional content of meals is important, and this is easier to do with planned meals eaten as a family than when individuals just grab whatever is most convenient.
In the United States, the intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and milk products and oils are lower for many people than recommended. The result is the dietary intake of several nutrients can be low enough to be a concern for both children and adults. Fruits and vegetables contribute nutrients such as folate, magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber and vitamins A, C and K which are under consumed by many people.
Whole grains are a source of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins and dietary fiber. Milk and milk products provide many nutrients including calcium, vitamin D (for those fortified with vitamin D) and potassium. Protein foods such as seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, nuts and seeds contribute lots of nutrients such as various B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium in addition to the protein. Oils are not a food group but are emphasized because they supply essential fatty acids and vitamin E.
Many children are consuming diets with too many calories and not enough nutrients. In addition many are not getting enough physical activity. These factors contribute to the increase in childhood obesity. It is important to encourage children to develop healthful eating habits because the habits established in childhood are often carried into adulthood. Risk factors for developing chronic diseases are increasingly being found in younger people and some of these are diet related.
Children in families who eat together do better in school and have fewer behavioral problems than those who do not eat together. Enjoying meals together provides a valuable opportunity for children and parents to connect and improve communication. Mealtime is a wonderful opportunity for socializing, sharing ideas and simply being heard. This family time is such a great opportunity to encourage open communication with children.
Many traditions develop around food and meals, and eating together helps children understand family values and traditions. One idea is to make a family soup and everyone gets to choose a vegetable to go in the soup. Everyone has a part and feels included.
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