LifestyleLiving a Better Life


TV on or off? Dinner table? Coffee table? How a family eats impacts what they eat, study says

Posted at 5:36 AM, Oct 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-29 08:42:30-04

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Ever remember your mom telling you, “Turn off the TV and come to dinner!” Turns out when it comes to healthy meal habits, mom was on to something.

A study shows how a family eats dinner together impacts how healthy they eat.

Single mom Alexis Leverette of Detroit credits her child for influencing her.

“If it wasn’t for my daughter – I’m going to be honest – my eating choices would be a lot worse,” Leverette said.

We caught up with Leverette grabbing a quick bite of breakfast at Kerby’s Coney Island in Southfield after dropping her 4-year-old daughter Kamia off at school.

As for their mealtime habits at home?

“Do you eat at a table, coffee table?” I asked.

“Typically it’s just the dining room table,” she replied. “It just makes you have better decisions on the consumption and the calories and everything.”

That experience echos a recent study by some University of Michigan School of Public Health researchers. They looked at data from 272 children in southeast Michigan to see how mealtime behaviors may impact the healthfulness of their meals.

Parents recorded more than 750 dinnertime meals and discussed the meals with researchers over the phone. The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Four main characteristics of the meals were studied:

  • If the parent was participating in the meal.
  • Whether the t-v was on or off.
  • If the meal was served ‘family style.’
  • And if the meal was eaten at the table.

The contents of the meals were then compared to the National Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Results showed when participants turned off the TV, sat at the table, and ate ‘family style,’ the foods they ate were typically healthier.

“Ultimately, sitting down at the table, being more mindful of the meal, having parent involvement in the meal, and not having kids fend for themselves would likely improve the quality of the meal,” said Ryanne Lachman, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic who did not take part in the study.

Lachman explained that turning off electronics allows us to be more mindful, chew our food, and make it easier to notice when we’re full. She said the study showed when it comes to eating healthy as a family, it’s important not only to disconnect from electronics but also to re-connect with the family.

Others agreed.

“Family style or fend for yourself?” I asked Tamu McKaye from Detroit. “Family style. Absolutely,” she replied enthusiastically.

“TV on or off?” I questioned Lataisha Weddle of Roseville. “Um, mostly off," she answered.

“I have five daughters. We shared all meals together. We sat down at the table every meal,” recalled Amanda Johnson of Detroit.

She was eating breakfast with her 9-year-old grandson Dorian.

“Do you feel like you eat more when you’re with other people or eat better?” I asked Dorian.

He replied,”I think I eat better when I’m with other people… because I feel more comfortable not alone.”

By the way, he described a healthy meal as having broccoli and Brussels sprouts. He also likes to help set the table. Good for Dorian!

Bottom line, some simple mealtime behaviors can help set us up for success.

You can find the complete results of the study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.