When I was growing up, my family was fairly dysfunctional. Not in any sort of abusive way, but as a child of immigrants, our household environment was not unlike some of the things you see on reality TV shows. However, even though things got downright wacky at times, and both of my parents worked, one thing that we consistently took part in was family meals.

Sure, some nights we ate macaroni and cheese out of a box, but to a child, that can be akin to fine cuisine. Now that I’m an adult and a parent, I’m struck by how little time families (at least the ones I know) spend having a meal together. It sort of makes sense when you consider how so many of us are busy working late or carting the kids off to assorted extracurricular activities. Who has time to sit down to a meal? Needless to say, marketers of processed foods are more than happy to cater to this hectic lifestyle.

Well, now it seems that people who can’t make the time for a sit-down meal, which at one time or another can include virtually any one of us, might want to consider the following: A recent study has determined that eating family meals is one of three important domestic activities that reduces a preschooler’s risk of becoming obese. The other two factors are getting enough sleep (10,5 hours) and limiting the amount of time that they watch TV (less than 2 hours). While previous studies have tied obesity to these three factors individually, this is the first time that all three have been studied together on such a large scale.

According to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, adhering to at least one of these suggestions is enough to make a difference, but when children (4 years of age) took part in all three, they had an almost 40% lower incidence of obesity than children who took part in none of them.

Suffice it to say, in addition to lowering a child’s risk of becoming obese, the appeal of these routines is that they also might very well have a positive impact on a child’s overall development. After all, as every parent knows, sleep is a wonderful thing, and numerous studies have determined that getting enough it not only improves our health and state of mind, but could help us live longer, too. As for family meals, taking the time to eat together may not necessarily guarantee healthier eating, but it sure beats eating some pre-wrapped, processed food product in the backseat of a minivan. As for TV, let’s face it, sitting around the tube is a poor substitute for spending quality time together as a family, as you might as well be in separate rooms.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea for all of us to slow down a little and take the time to savor and appreciate the good things in life. By setting a good example for our kids, parents and children alike benefit from the increase in quality time.

What more could a parent ask for? Well, maybe a little more sleep, but that’s not going to happen.