Television viewing has long been linked with poor eating habits. So when University of Minnesota researchers embarked on a study of family meals, they fully expected that having the TV on at dinner would take a toll on children’s diets.
But to their surprise, it didn’t make much difference. Families who watched TV at dinner ate just about as healthfully as families who dined without it. The biggest factor wasn’t whether the TV was on or off, but whether the family was eating the meal together.
“Obviously, we want people eating family meals, and we want them to turn the TV off,” said Shira Feldman, public health specialist at the university’s School of Public Health and lead author of the research. “But just the act of eating together is on some level very beneficial, even if the TV is on.”
The research, published this month in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, is the latest testament to the power of the family meal. While many parents worry about what their kids are eating ”” vegetables versus junk ”” a voluminous body of research suggests that the best strategy for improving a child’s diet is simply putting food on the table and sitting down together to eat it.