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With hectic work schedules among parents and their children’s over ambitious extracurricular calendars, getting the entire family to eat the same meal at the same table seems like a losing battle. Yet, researchers strongly recommend a modification of our ‘fast food lifestyles’ and are insisting that families make an effort to eat at least five to six meals a week together.

According to these researchers there are some very good physiological and psychological reasons to eat as a family at the dining table:

1. Eating with parents exposes children to a wider range of foods which are, in most cases, healthier than their own choice of ‘out-of-the-box’ meals (which are usually fried, highly salted and accompanied by soft drinks). This develops healthy and balanced eating habits and gives children’s health a boost.

2. ‘Ready’ meals usually lack key ingredients such as iron, Vitamin D and zinc; they contain large quantities of unhealthy additives.

3. Children who eat with their parents have a healthier mix of meals and are less likely to suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Iron deficiencies are a common problem and affect learning and development in younger children.

4. Family meals foster warmth, security and love as well as a feeling of belonging; they are also a perfect time for parents to display and help their children develop appropriate table manners, meal etiquette and social skills.

5. Researchers are questioning the emotional and social health of children who eat alone, usually in front of the idiot box, since they are likely to grow up preferring screens rather than real people.

6. Sharing meals, especially dinner, helps establish family traditions and develops a sense of identity; they are a good place to discuss matters as a family and help create happy memories that go a long way in a family’s psychological well being.

– Dr Summaiya Syed Tariq
The writer is a senior forensic practitioner at the Police Surgeon Office, Karachi.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on August 25, 2013.