Fight Childhood Obesity by Eating Dinner Together

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control found that more than one-third of adults are obese. Even more alarming is the fact that the rate of childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. Today, more than 17% of children are obese, and even more are overweight. Childhood obesity increases the risk of medical problems, including heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, for the first time in American history, the current generation of children may face a life expectancy that is less than the life expectancy of their parents.

Long-term, successful medical weight loss is critical to helping children overcome childhood obesity. While healthy eating and an active lifestyle are essential, regular family dinners are just as important. Eating a meal together is an important opportunity to pass along good health habits to your children. A regular dinnertime is also a great opportunity for family bonding and adds important structure to a child’s day.

Getting children involved in meal preparation is an important way to communicate health values and teach your kids about healthy eating. By taking an active role in our children’s diets, we can ensure they learn from an early age the right foods to eat. Here are 5 tips to for starting a family dinner tradition at your house.

Tip #1: Bring back Sunday dinners.

While it’s difficult to eat every dinner together, start small by instituting a weekly dinner night. Pick a night like Sunday and make sharing a meal together on this night a priority. Sunday night is also a great time to bring the family together free from work commitments and nightly homework demands. Teach your child about correct portion size by serving meals on individual plates rather than on large, family-style platters. This prevents over-indulging and eliminates second helpings.

Tip #2: Turn off the TV.

Family dinnertime is an opportunity to connect and communicate. Studies also show that both children and adults who watch TV while eating a meal are more likely to engage in ‘mindless eating.’ When we are distracted by a television show, we don’t pay attention to how much food we eat, or what food we consume. Turn off the TV and sit together. Even if dinner is just a simple meal, eat it at the kitchen table rather than on the couch.

Tip #3: Say no to the drive-thru.

Not only is fast food unhealthy, it sends the wrong message to children. As parents, we look hypocritical if we tell our children to eat healthy, but then load up on fatty, sugary meals. Teach your children that food belongs on the table, and not in a take-out bag.

Tip #4: Grow it yourself.

Children hate vegetables, right? Think again. When children are involved in growing or cooking foods themselves, they are more open to trying new things to eat. If you have a backyard, start a small vegetable patch with your child. Here in Syracuse, you can also plant vegetables in a community garden; there are a number of new community gardens sprouting up along the East Side. Don’t have a green thumb? Take your child to a local farmer’s market or sign up for a weekly vegetable delivery from a farmer’s co-op.

Tip #5: Plan ahead.

Between your job demands and shuffling your kids to and from soccer practice, it’s difficult to find time (or energy) to make a balanced meal at the end of the day. Make things easier by cooking in advance on Sunday. Create a few healthy dishes that you can freeze or refrigerate for the week. When you get home, pop the meal in the oven, toss together a fresh salad and dinner is ready!