According to the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), children who regularly eat meals with their families eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and calcium-rich foods, and drink fewer soft drinks than other children their age.

DAA Spokesperson Lisa Renn said: ‘Family meals encourage slower eating, compared with grab-and-go meals. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to know your stomach is full. And taking the time to eat slowly means eating fewer kilojoules.

‘Plus, families at home tend to serve healthier portion sizes than fast food outlets and restaurants, so regular family meals are a body blow to childhood obesity.’

Ms Renn said trading TV time for meal time can help strengthen family ties. But according to an Australian survey, one in two family dinners are eaten while watching television.

‘By switching off the TV, conversation will flow more easily and you’ll enjoy each other’s company – and the food you’re eating. So you’ll not only be healthier but happier as a family,’ said Ms Renn, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

She suggests aiming for at least five meals a week together, but knows that could be hard for families juggling busy schedules. Ms Renn said planning ahead is the key, and suggested scheduling meal times and weekly menus as a family over the weekend.

‘If you want your family to live healthy, happy lives you need to make healthy food and family meal times a priority. What you feed your family and the patterns you set up today will predict their future health,’ said Ms Renn.

Lisa’s tips for quick and healthy family dinners:

– Choose dishes that are easy to assemble, such as soup with crusty bread, salad with lean cooked chicken or tuna mixed through, or pasta with a tomato-and herb-based sauce.

– Use a slow cooker or crock pot. Prepare your meal early in the day and place in the slow cooker. At dinner time, a hot meal will be waiting.

– Make burgers or pizza at home. This will be healthier and cheaper than the take-away versions. Buy pizza bases at the grocery store, and add your own sauce and toppings (like lean chicken pieces, mushrooms, capsicum and pineapple).

Source: Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA)