New Long-term Study Shows More Benefits of Family Mealtimes


By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

One morning as I was brushing my teeth, I heard a snippet on a national news program about new family meals research.

I zipped into the living room with my toothbrush still in hand, wanting to hear more.

We at the NDSU Extension Service launched “The Family Table” a year ago to encourage families to eat together more often, so my ears “perk” when I hear anything about it.

I have been waiting for more research to be published on the long-term benefits of family mealtimes. Many short-term studies have been published, but the new study followed children from infancy to age 10.

I was a little surprised at the national newscasters saying, “Of course, kids who eat with their families are healthier.” We certainly hope that is the case, but without actual published peer-reviewed research, we can’t make pronouncements about the health benefits of anything.

In the field of nutrition and child development, “guessing” about health benefits is not sound advice.

As part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, Canadian researchers tracked hundreds of children from the age of 5 months to age 10. Children who ate with their families more often had better communication and social skills and were less likely to be aggressive toward others. They also were more physically fit, ate less fast food and drank fewer soft drinks.

Eating more healthful meals and getting more physical activity can help children and adults maintain a healthful weight, too.

The researchers said that family meals could be promoted as advantageous. Guess what? We have been using earlier research to promote family mealtimes.

Our 2018 theme is “We’re cookin’ now!” and we will feature more skill-based information that can help anyone who has a kitchen and eats food. (Yes, that’s you.)

Visit to learn more about “The Family Table.” Eat, connect and savor at the family table. Join the challenges and sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips. Follow the program on Facebook for more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals.

Here are some tips to help make eating as a family a reality.

  • Figure out which days (and meals) work best for your family to eat together each week. Try for at least three meals per week, and preferably more. Nothing going on Monday night? Eat dinner as a family. Basketball game Thursday evening? Eat breakfast together before work and school. Communicate with all family members so everyone is in the loop.
  • Use the recommendations as a guide for healthful eating. According to MyPlate, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables and half of your plate should be grains and proteins (one-fourth of each). Don’t forget to incorporate a serving of dairy or other calcium-rich food. Aim for whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Plan your meals. Find a day that works for you to sit down and plan meals for the entire week. Choose recipes that contain similar fresh foods. For example, if you are making a pasta recipe that contains spinach, find other recipes that use spinach or serve a spinach salad one day. This eliminates waste of fresh produce, which also saves money.
  • Serve fruit as a dessert for your family meal. Because fruits contain natural sugars, they satisfy the sweet tooth. Try healthful options such as fruit smoothies and yogurt parfaits. Allow your children to help or make their own, which turns dessert into a fun family activity.
  • Take chances. Don’t be afraid that your kids won’t like what you make. Children and adolescents want their parents to serve healthful meals, according to researchers studying family mealtimes. Now is the time to try something new and get feedback during your meal together.
  • Have fun. Family meals aren’t supposed to be stressful. They are meant to be an opportunity for family bonding, interaction and growth. Enjoy your time together.

Here’s a one-dish meal that is tasty topped with cheese, with a side of cornbread. Beans are rich in fiber, protein, folate and other vitamins. You can freeze the leftovers for a quick meal on another night or make loaded baked potatoes topped with chili and shredded cheese within a few days.

Hearty Spicy Bean Chili


      • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
      • 2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
      • 2 (15-ounce) cans butter beans, drained and rinsed
      • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
      • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
      • 1 (1.25-ounce) packet reduced-sodium chili seasoning
      • 1 Tbsp. oil
      • 2 cloves garlic, minced
      • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
      • 1 small jalapeno, seeds removed and diced (optional)
      • 2 tsp. vegetable bouillon plus 2 c. water


      1. Drain and rinse beans. Set aside.
      2. Heat oil in large pan. Add diced yellow onion, jalapeno and garlic, then saute until the onion turns clear.
      3. Boil 2 cups of water on the stove or in the microwave. Once boiling, add 2 teaspoons of the vegetable bouillon until completely dissolved.
      4. Combine all can ingredients into a large slow cooker followed by the onion, garlic and jalapeno mixture, and then the broth. Add in the chili seasoning and mix well.
      5. Leave slow cooker on high for approximately 45 minutes or until chili reaches a desirable temperature.

Makes 15 servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 2.5 grams (g) fat, 11 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate, 10 g fiber and 390 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)

Get more Great Recipes in your inbox each week by getting
Around the Table.

It's a FREE weekly e-newsletter all about food. Sign Up Today!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.