Tiffanie Wen 2016-12-08 05:08:04
Whether it’s at home or a restaurant, dining as a family is an important part of a well-balanced meal. Parents might instinctively know there are several benefits for families that dine together—it’s a great time to bond and catch up on the day’s events. But science has also come up with some surprising benefits that last well into adulthood. “The research shows three to five family dinners … [a week have] very positive benefits on children and teenagers,” says Jill Castle, a registered dietitian and childhood nutrition and feeding expert. “These benefits are not only in terms of eating healthier and showing more weight stability, but teenagers who regularly eat with their families show less risky behaviors and have better academic scores.” Though the rate of dining together as a family has decreased since the 1960s and 1970s due to our busier schedules, there has been an uptick in the amount that families dine together in recent years, in part because people are becoming more aware of the benefits of eating together. As Americans spend more time eating out, it’s likely that school-age sons and daughters are increasingly dining out as well, with more restaurants catering to their changing tastes. Here we take a closer look at the research behind family dining and how children’s menus are evolving. THE SCIENCE BEHIND DINNER A recent Gallup poll indicated that 53 percent of American parents with children younger than 18 regularly eat dinner together as a family six or seven days a week. That’s great news, given what we know about the benefits for children who frequently eat with their family. Research has shown that these youths go on to make more healthful food choices and eating habits as they age. Middle and high school students who regularly eat with their families drink less soda for example, and teens who dine frequently with their families (at least five times a week) are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs than teens who eat with their families three times a week or less. Teens who eat dinner with their family every night tend to perform better academically than teens that rarely eat with their families, while teenage girls who eat with their families are also less likely to engage in extreme weight control or develop eating disorders that can have a negative effect on their physical and mental health. Of course, the quality of the time spent together matters just as much as the frequency.“You see the benefits when eating together is a positive thing,” Castle says. “If the meal is full of criticism and arguing, then it’s not going to have the same effect.” Sharon Fruh, a professor at the University of South Alabama College of Nursing, advises setting some ground rules for family meals. “You want to encourage kids and create a positive atmosphere so they’ll look forward to coming together to eat. Your senses are involved, you’re smelling the food, you’re eating it, it’s a positive event that can build everyone’s emotional wellbeing and help them feel they’re important and connected to one another,” she says. “I always suggest making it a no-conflict zone. It’s not the time to bring up controversial topics.” Fruh also suggests implementing a no cellphone and TV policy during meals, especially since research has shown that families that eat together without the TV on tend to eat the healthiest food. “If the TV is on, people are listening to the TV or watching halfway and they’re not fully engaged in the conversation,” she says.Instead, she suggests asking fun, open-ended questions (e.g. what would you do with a million dollars?) To keep people involved. While research tends to focus on the benefits of family dining for children and teens, there are benefits to adults as well, including an improved relationship with your spouse and children. And though much of the research tends to look at dinner, Castle emphasizes that there are other ways to incorporate family meals into the busy weekly routine. “I like to remind parents it doesn’t have to be just dinner—it can be breakfast or a weekend lunch out together, but try to eat together at least three to five times per week, If possible,” she says. EVOLVING CHILDREN’S MENUS Of course, incorporating family meals into busy schedules might often mean eating out together, especially since Americans are, for the first time ever, spending more money dining out than cooking at home. Luckily, many of the same principles of eating together as a family at home can easily be carried over outside of the home, especially when distractions like phones and the television are kept to a minimum. “Going out to eat is not necessarily bad. You can make healthy decisions when you go out to eat as well,” Fruh says. “And you can see the same benefits for the family. It can even be more pleasant because you don’t have to prep, you can just enjoy each other’s company.” Restaurants are also responding in kind, and coming up with more sophisticated and nutritious options for children, or encouraging parents to order off the regular menu for their young ones. “Adults are becoming more aware of food, and have changing tastes, and as their tastes are evolving, the palates of their kids are also evolving,” says Christian Ojeda, the chef de cuisine at Montage Deer Valley’s Apex restaurant. “They’re eating nicer things. My kids, for example, they enjoy a nice piece of halibut and love truffle fries.” Ojeda says his winter children’s menu often includes items like a spaghetti with meat sauce, alongside typical kids-friendly items like macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers. Castle reminds parents to keep portion size in mind when ordering off the adult menu for children. “Since restaurant portions are large anyway, it can be a great idea for children to share dishes with their parents,” she says. She also suggests trying to incorporate all five food groups (protein, grains, fruit, vegetables and dairy) into dinner, and at least two for each nutritious daytime snack. But perhaps the most important thing to remember when it comes to family feasts is to keep dining fun, regardless of whether it’s at home or at a restaurant. Fruh says it took a while for her family to understand the importance of family dining on a regular basis, “but once we got ahold of the concept, we feel like it’s made a huge difference in our family relationships,” she says.“And now, my kids are practicing those things with their own children.” FAMILY DINING WITH MONTAGE MAKE THE MOST OUT OF FAMILY DINNERS WITH A VISIT TO ONE OF THESE CHILD-FRIENDLY EATERIES. MONTAGE DEER VALLEY While Apex is definitely a family-friendly restaurant, especially for those who enjoy buffets, Burgers & Bourbon and Daly’s are also popular for family dinners. MONTAGE PALMETTO BLUFF Buffalo’s provides great options all day long. Children enjoy the “Biscuit Bar,” which features three kinds of homemade biscuits, jams, sausage gravy and a full buffet spread. MONTAGE KAPALUA BAY Cane & Canoe and Hana Hou are both popular for families. If you don’t see what you like on the menu, make a special request as they do their best to accommodate everyone’s tastes. MONTAGE BEVERLY HILLS Families can enjoy plenty of space and fresh air next to the pool at The Rooftop Grill, Montage Beverly Hills’ most beloved family-friendly restaurant. MONTAGE LAGUNA BEACH The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach is the most child-friendly, all-day dining restaurant. Add a cup of tomato bisque soup to the grilled cheese for a bit of dipping fun.
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