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Can Eating With Your Family Make You Thin?

New research shows that slimming down could be as easy as sitting down for family meals more often.

| April 23rd, 2012
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Can Eating With Your Family Make You Thin?

The secret to losing weight may be right under your roof.

New research presented today at the American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions in San Diego showed that families who eat together may be the healthiest—and the slimmest.

MORE: Five Healthy “It” Foods 

Chew on this: More than 40 percent of the typical American food budget is spent on eating out. So it’s no wonder that our bodies have become so unhealthy. Dining out or opting for the drive-thru has generally been linked with poor food choices, and it’s typically done on the run—meaning, quality family meals are falling by the wayside. Not to mention the fact that many restaurants don’t offer enough healthy options.

After evaluating 68 previously published scientific reports, a team of researchers from Rutgers University found that fewer family meals at home translated to an increased risk of obesity among children. On the flip side, dining together more often meant kids were eating more fruits, vegetables, fiber and calcium- and vitamin-rich foods. It also meant they consumed fewer unhealthy items, such as soda, and had a lower body mass index (BMI).

Another research study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2011 drew similar conclusions. It stated that kids who sat down for family meals at home three or more times a week had a 12 percent reduced risk for being overweight, a 20 percent decrease in eating unhealthy foods, a 35 percent reduced risk of an eating disorder and a 24 percent increase in eating healthy foods.

MORE: Does Eating Out Make You Fat? 

And while the focus of both studies was primarily on children, it stands to reason that adults can reap similar waist-slimming benefits simply by sitting down to more home-cooked meals, too, according to YouBeauty Nutrition Advisor, Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D.

“This could definitely translate to adults,” she says. “When you’re eating at home as a family, you’re more likely to be eating mindfully.” Dining out and eating on the run can be distracting, notes Kirkpatrick, leading us to eat more. “We can avoid that when we sit down and focus on our meal at home.”

Not only will you pay more attention to enjoying your food at mealtime, you’re also more likely to make healthier food choices.

“If you’re eating as a family and you’re eating at home, you’re less likely to be consuming the huge amounts of calories, sodium and fats that are in many restaurant foods, according to Kirkpatrick. “You’re also less likely to eat processed foods, like frozen dinners, when you plan a home-cooked meal.”

MORE: Eat Healthy on the Cheap 

The proof? Just look at how other cultures do it.

“If you look at the Greek, Italian and Hispanic cultures, there’s a greater tendency to eat together as a family unit,” explains Kirkpatrick. “And if you also look at the healthiest places in the world, there are little clusters in Greece, Italy and Costa Rica (which is largely Hispanic). They tend to be healthier for a lot a reasons, and eating together as a family could be one of them.”

So how exactly does a busy family with working parents manage to prepare a healthy, home-cooked meal every night? It’s all in the planning.

“If you know the week is going to be crazy, take a Friday night or Sunday afternoon and prepare foods you can eat during the week,” she says.

For example, pick a night to cut up tons of fresh, seasonal vegetables and cook a large batch of rice and some chicken ahead of time. When you come home after work, all you have to do is heat up the rice and toss in the veggies and chicken for an easy, healthy meal.

MORE: Healthy Versions of Tasty Southern Dishes 

“If the chances of you becoming overwhelmed during the week are going to be high, foresee that and prepare things ahead of time,” says Kirkpatrick. “Because if you wait until the last minute when you get home at the end of the day, chances are you’re not going to pick something healthy.” And your family’s waistline may pay for it.

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