The Feed Zone

Social Meals Are Better for Your Health

by Dr. Allen Lim

Adapted with permission of VeloPress from Feed Zone Table by chef Biju Thomas and Dr. Allen Lim.

Though many of us intuitively feel that meals with others are beneficial, there is also clear scientific evidence that children who eat more frequently with their families are physically and psychologically better off.

First and foremost, family meals improve the diet quality and long-term eating habits of children.32

Feed Zone Table by Biju Thomas and Allen LimSpecifically, kids who eat more frequently with their families gravitate toward healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables and tend to stay away from unhealthy foods such as soft drinks and fast food. As a result, their intake of fiber is higher, as is their intake of important vitamins and minerals.33 It’s an effect that seems to last well into adulthood, as kids who eat more frequently with their families end up continuing their healthy food choices and eating habits, including cooking at home and eating with others as adults.34 Of note, children who eat the same foods as their parents also have better diets and enjoy their food more. Based on this fact, parents don’t need to give in to the pressure to let picky children demand a separate meal or dictate the entire meal.35

Beyond improving diet, higher family meal frequency may also stem obesity patterns in children. Some data shows that the odds of being obese are greater in kids who eat less frequently with their families.36 But for kids who aren’t already overweight or obese, the chances of becoming obese don’t seem to be related to family meal frequency.37 This relationship, however, may be specific to white children, who show lower odds of being obese with an increase in meal frequency, whereas black or Hispanic children do not seem to incur a protective effect from an increase in family meal frequency.38 Finally, there is also data that does not describe a relationship between weight and family meal frequency, highlighting the fact that childhood obesity is a complex multifactorial problem but not diminishing the idea that family meals can be an important part of the overall solution.39

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

Feed Zone Table FZT_600x400_quotes_wearewhoThe most striking benefit of family meals, however, is not just physical—it’s psychological. Kids who eat more frequently with their families have lower rates of eating disorders such as binge eating, purging, or anorexia.40 They exhibit less high-risk behavior, including substance abuse, violent acts, sexual promiscuity, and disciplinary problems at school.41 High family meal frequency is also related to improved self-esteem and academic performance.42 Frequent family meals are also associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. Interestingly, the positive effect of family meals seems to be greater in girls than in boys, especially for factors such as disordered eating.43

Much of this psychosocial benefit may be explained by the simple fact that family meals improve communication between parents and their children.44 Essentially, family meals give parents an opportunity to actually parent. In fact, it is thought that eating with our children is the basis for how we teach them basic social skills, ethics, language, and culture. For example, at only 12 months of age, young babies point at objects at the dinner table, not only because they want something but also because they want to share an experience. Not only do babies want to share food, they want to share emotions and a sense of belonging. From the very start of human life, eating together is essential to figuring out our basic relationship to others and the world.45

You can make dinnertime better right now. Inspire your dinnertime with family-style meals from Feed Zone Table.

Feed Zone TableFeed Zone Table includes more than 100 all-new recipes to inspire family-style dinners in a way that nourishes life and sport.

VeloPress
Biju’s Little Curry Shop
Skratch Labs
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
local booksellers

Complete footnotes and references for studies cited above are available in the print edition of Feed Zone Table.

 

The Demise of the Family Meal

Eating with others is a cultural practice with thousands of years of tradition, yet research shows that social eating is in decline among some industrialized nations. In his thought-provoking introduction to Feed Zone Table, Dr. Allen Lim explores the evidence for the many health and performance benefits of sharing meals with others.

Adapted with permission of VeloPress from Feed Zone Table by chef Biju Thomas and Dr. Allen Lim.

by Dr. Allen Lim

One way to understand local and global cultural differences in social eating is to simply ask those who don’t have much of a choice in the matter—our children.

Feed Zone Table by Biju Thomas and Allen LimWhen youths from different countries were asked how frequently most or all of those who lived in their household (i.e., family) sat down to eat together, the results varied greatly depending on factors such as region and income.

In the United States, some studies show that only 45–50 percent of youths report eating with their family or people they live with at what’s considered to be a high frequency—five or more times per week.21 That said, depending upon how the question is asked, there may be a great deal of variability.

For example, in a group of 7,784 girls and 6,647 boys ages 9–14 who were surveyed across 50 states,

  • 16% reported having family dinner “never or some days,”
  • 40% reported “most days,” and
  • 44% reported “every day.”22

In a similar study conducted with 5,014 adolescents between the ages of 12–15,

  • 8.3% reported never having family dinner,
  • 7.3% reported having family dinner 1–2 times per week,
  • 13.4% reported a dinner rate of 3–4 times per week,
  • 28.1% reported 5–6 times per week, and
  • 42% reported every day.23

If we define a high frequency of family meals as five or more meals per week, then based upon the studies quoted above, 45–70 percent of children in the United States report a high frequency of family meals. Whatever the reality, this large range shows that family meals are not consistent.

In the United States, most people who eat dinner with their families tend to eat breakfast alone and eat lunch with their classmates or coworkers.24 So from the perspective of an American nuclear family for whom breakfast or lunch is not considered to have much of a familial context, the statistics on family meal frequency may not seem that low or odd.

But considering the 21 distinct meals we might eat in a week, the fact that potentially half of American children eat less than a quarter of those meals with their family is striking if not at least interesting.

Writing about the demise of the family meal, Anne Murcott quotes an upset father who laments, “I ate only seven meals at home all last week and three of those were on Sunday.”25 While this father may not be happy about his situation, by a certain standard he’s still considered to be on the high side of family meal frequency.

It’s a little socioeconomic

More alarming is the fact that these numbers seem to be improving in the wealthiest and most educated Americans but declining in the poorest and lowest educated. In a study conducted to assess trends in family meal frequency in the United States from 1999 to 2010, a high family meal frequency of five or more meals per week held relatively stable at 48.2 percent for a population of 3,072 kids surveyed in 1999 and 48.5 percent for a population of 2,793 kids living in the same region who were surveyed in 2010.

When the data was analyzed based on socioeconomic status, the trend for high family meal frequency rose in the highest socioeconomic class from 55.8 percent in 1999 to 61.3 percent in 2010 and fell in the lowest socioeconomic class from 46.9 percent in 1999 to 38.8 percent in 2010.

On average, kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds ate with their families 4 times per week in 1999 and 3.6 times per week in 2010. Besides declines in low socioeconomic classes, declines were also seen in girls, middle school students (grades 6–8), and Asians.26

Anarchy in the UK

Although the outlook for family meals in the United States isn’t great (or is perhaps just inconsistent, especially in lower socioeconomic classes), the situation in the United Kingdom may be even worse. In one study assessing family meal frequency in Britain, only 33 percent of British youths reported a high frequency of family meals.27

The situation is quite different in other countries. In studies similar to the ones conducted on family meal frequency in the United States and Britain, 78 percent of Spanish youths report high rates of family meal frequency.28 Likewise, in Canadian provinces such as Ontario and Nova Scotia, 70 percent of youths report a high frequency of family meals.29

  • United Kingdom: 33% high frequency of family meals
  • Spain: 78% high frequency of family meals
  • Canada: 70% high frequency of family meals

But it’s the French who seem to be excelling as a nation when it comes to creating consistent and structured meal patterns for their children.

More on the French way of eating later. For now, know that you can make dinnertime better right now. Inspire your dinnertime with family-style meals from Feed Zone Table.

Feed Zone TableFeed Zone Table includes more than 100 all-new recipes to inspire family-style dinners in a way that nourishes life and sport.

VeloPress
Biju’s Little Curry Shop
Skratch Labs
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
local booksellers

Complete footnotes and references for studies cited above are available in the print edition of Feed Zone Table.

What’s Inside Feed Zone Table

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chef Biju Thomas and Dr. Allen Lim have returned to the kitchen to champion dinner, the most social meal of the day. In their third cookbook, Feed Zone Table, Biju and Allen offer over 100 all-new recipes to bring friends and family to the table in a way that nourishes life and sport.

Feed Zone Table will inspire your family-style dinners with a delicious line up of drinks, starters, main courses, side dishes, fresh sauces, and desserts. Biju rolls out easy techniques for making flavorful food that’s fun to prepare and share.

Here’s what’s inside Feed Zone Table.

In the Feed Zone, the menu has changed and no one can argue with the results: real food is better. Real food tastes better, digests quickly, and helps you perform at your best.

FZC The Feed Zone Cookbook cover photoFeed zone Portables FZP 96dpi_400pw_strFeed Zone TableThe Feed Zone Cookbook includes 150 everyday recipes for athletes. Each breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipe is simple, delicious, athlete-friendly, and easy to prepare. Feed Zone Portables, offers 75 all-new portable snack recipes that taste delicious during exercise. Fuel your workouts with real food rice cakes, two-bite pies, waffles, and other tasty snacks. Feed Zone Table includes more than 100 all-new recipes to inspire family-style dinners in a way that nourishes life and sport.

Get into the Feed Zone! Find the Feed Zone Series in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Skratch Labs, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, local booksellers, e-book editions for Apple iPad.

The Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables and Feed Zone Table are published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books on cycling, triathlon, and running. Please see more VeloPress nutrition books at velopress.com/category/nutrition-and-diet

 

Just off press: Feed Zone Table!

Preorders of Feed Zone Table begin shipping this week. Will you join us at the table?

Order Feed Zone Table from your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:

VeloPress
Skratch Labs
TriSports.com
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
IndieBound
Chapters/Indigo
Cordee (UK)

Feed Zone Table sneak preview

In the Feed Zone, the menu has changed and no one can argue with the results: real food is better. Real food tastes better, digests quickly, and helps you perform at your best.

FZC The Feed Zone Cookbook cover photoFeed zone Portables FZP 96dpi_400pw_strFeed Zone TableThe Feed Zone Cookbook includes 150 everyday recipes for athletes. Each breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipe is simple, delicious, athlete-friendly, and easy to prepare. Feed Zone Portables, offers 75 all-new portable snack recipes that taste delicious during exercise. Fuel your workouts with real food rice cakes, two-bite pies, waffles, and other tasty snacks. Feed Zone Table includes more than 100 all-new recipes to inspire family-style dinners in a way that nourishes life and sport.

Get into the Feed Zone! Find the Feed Zone Series in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Skratch Labs, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, local booksellers, e-book editions for Apple iPad.

The Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables and Feed Zone Table are published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books on cycling, triathlon, and running. Please see more VeloPress nutrition books at velopress.com/category/nutrition-and-diet

 

Preorder Feed Zone Table from Skratch Labs and Get FREE Cookie Mix!

For a limited time, Dr. Allen Lim’s hydration company Skratch Labs is offering a free box of cookie mix with preorders of Feed Zone Table!

Visit Skratch Labs to learn more.

Feed Zone Table Skratch Labs Cookie Mix

In the Feed Zone, the menu has changed and no one can argue with the results: real food is better. Real food tastes better, digests quickly, and helps you perform at your best.

FZC The Feed Zone Cookbook cover photoFeed zone Portables FZP 96dpi_400pw_strFeed Zone TableThe Feed Zone Cookbook includes 150 everyday recipes for athletes. Each breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipe is simple, delicious, athlete-friendly, and easy to prepare. Feed Zone Portables, offers 75 all-new portable snack recipes that taste delicious during exercise. Fuel your workouts with real food rice cakes, two-bite pies, waffles, and other tasty snacks. Feed Zone Table includes more than 100 all-new recipes to inspire family-style dinners in a way that nourishes life and sport.

Get into the Feed Zone! Find the Feed Zone Series in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Skratch Labs, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, local booksellers, e-book editions for Apple iPad.

The Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables and Feed Zone Table are published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books on cycling, triathlon, and running. Please see more VeloPress nutrition books at velopress.com/category/nutrition-and-diet