According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (JADA), eating together as a family helps teens develop lasting, positive healthy eating habits. There is also growing evidence that family meals may help protect against obesity.

Time is often the biggest factor working against eating together as a family. Parents work different schedules and our children are involved in many different after school activities. Yet the JADA study showed that family meals on average last 19 minutes. The amount of time spent eating the meal isn't as important as simply eating together.

Eating meals together gives families the opportunity to interact with each other and share information. Showing genuine concern and interest in each other's lives during meals improves family dynamics and the nutritional quality of our teens' diets. Keep the conversation positive and fun, and everyone will look forward to family mealtime.

The researchers also found that adolescents who ate with their families grow up to be healthier adults who eat more fruit and dark-green and orange vegetables that supply key nutrients including folate, magnesium, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C and K. Teens who routinely eat meals with their families also consumer fewer sweetened beverages that are associated with increased rates of overweight and obesity.

Try these five ideas to eat meals together more often as a family:

Set the expectation that your family will eat a meal together one additional time each week.

Family meals don't have to be in the evening; enjoy breakfast or lunch together on the weekend when you have more time.

Keep meals simple by using a crock pot or cooking double portions to serve as leftovers.

Take-out meals eaten together at home qualify as a family meal. Pick up a roasted chicken at the grocery store and serve it with bagged salad, sliced fresh vegetables, or microwaved frozen vegetables for a quick, easy, and healthy meal.

Set a good example for your children by eating breakfast together during the week. Toast with peanut butter, scrambled eggs and a piece of fruit, or a bowl of high-fiber cereal with fruit and milk takes only minutes to prepare and enjoy, and everyone starts the day with a balanced meal.

Family meals don't need to be complicated or time-consuming - the key is eating together.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com.