Enjoying dinner as a family is a good way to instill healthy habits in your kids—especially in young girls at risk of developing eating disorders, say the authors of a study conducted recently at the University of Minnesota. Writing in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, the researchers reported that girls who ate regular family meals in “a structured and positive environment were less likely to exhibit extreme weight control behaviors, such as diet pill use, vomiting and chronic dieting.” The risk of developing extreme weight control practices was only about one-third as high in girls who ate three to four meals with their families each week as it was in girls who joined their families less often.

According to the report, the trick is to make the family meal a pleasant experience. Toward that end, parents should try these strategies:

  • Keep the conversation at each meal positive and nonconfrontational.
  • If you work outside the home, be creative in scheduling family mealtimes; if dinner just won’t work in the daily schedule, try to gather for a family breakfast each day.
  • Don’t feel you must cook. Meals don’t have to be shared at home to be effective; meet for dinner each week at a favorite restaurant if that works for everyone.