Let This Holiday Season Jumpstart New Meal Traditions

Monday, December 3, 2007

The quintessential holiday scene – if not children eagerly unwrapping presents from under the Christmas tree – normally involves a family gathered around a table covered with home-cooked food.  The reality is that, for the rest of the year, families don't routinely convene during mealtimes.

According to John Stanton, Ph.D., professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, this trend is causing more problems than just a disconnect among family members. By sitting down and eating together, parents can help improve their child's scholastic performance, lessen a child's tendency to experiment with drugs and create a better nutritional profile.

"If you look at all the parenting advice out there, the number one thing a parent can do to positively affect their children is to eat meals together. It's not just a 'nice' thing to do; it benefits the future of the child's nutritional, physical and psychological health," Stanton says.

He adds, "The holiday season is a perfect time to start the family dining behavior, especially since a lot of the foods served are kids' favorites – are 'comfort foods' – things we nostalgically think of as really good dinners."

Stanton stresses the importance of finding at least one meal per week where all family members can attend. Everyone must first compare schedules and make the commitment to at least one meal, placing each other as the focus. Some children may not want to eat as a family, but would instead prefer to eat in front of the television, for example.

"The main objective is to get the child to look forward to the meal," Stanton explains. He recommends helping the child to feel involved by letting them pick the menu or assisting with the preparation. He also says that switching around standard seating places, wearing funny hats to dinner or allowing the child to invite a friend can add a level of appeal. Parents must also make the effort to talk about subjects interesting to their kids.

Stanton can be reached for comment at 610-660-1607, by email at jstanton@sju.edu, or by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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