There is a lot of research supporting the importance of eating together as a family, whatever form your family takes. The research has teased out single parent families, various income levels and amount and type of extracurricular activities. The gains accrue from eating with whomever your household contains. Income levels do not matter and these benefits are not associated with extra-curricular activities.
Before I share my top 7 benefits of family dinner, I am going to share an unbelievable but completely true story with you. When I was in high school, my father decided to return to college and get his degree. This was long before distance learning so after running his business during the day he went to the university at night. My Mom (who worked) decided to make “dinner” for breakfast as that would be the only time for us to share a meal at the table. Imagine spaghetti, pot roast and enchiladas plus sides for breakfast. I share this for two reasons: to applaud my mother’s sheer work and commitment to our health and the gathering of a busy family but mainly to point out that we all can learn to think outside the box and get healthy food and the gang together regularly!
- Children Can Count on Time with Parents: Family meal time promotes a sense of security and feeling of value in the context of the family. It may be the only time every day when competing demands for your attention do not dilute what your child receives.
- Children Score Higher on Test Scores and Have Higher GPA’s: The consistent time to be together increases language acquisition and literacy development. The parent interest in the child’s day provides insight for meaningful conversation and instruction (the dinner table should never be a disciplinary platform, the benefits could become casualties).
- Children and Teens Quality of Diet: Regular family meal time is associated from more than one body of research with higher fruit and vegetable consumption and less intake of fried foods and soda. In fact they eat 24% more fruits and vegetables. Thoughtful meal planning and taking care to include something your children like lays a foundation of habits that carry into adulthood. What a great legacy to motivate us when the long day and at times dreary work of getting a meal on the table seem not worth the trouble.
- Less Depression and Drug Use: Teens whose parent or families eat dinner together have a lower rate of both depression and drug use. This may be because parents pick up on cues sooner. While teens may not act like they want to eat with you, when researchers from Cornell, Yale and Harvard interviewed teenagers on several topics, they indicated they enjoyed eating with their family!
- Vehicle for Positive Conversation and Connection: This time of give and take between the family members at the table fosters a safe space. Parents can use this time to share family stories and culture. It is also a time to practice patience and respect.
- Less Disordered Eating: Demonstrating normal eating is one of the most important prevention of disordered eating in children. Children where dinner is eaten together have 35% less likelihood of experiencing disordered eating.
- Parent and Child Weight: More parents and children have normal BMI when dinner is eaten together on a regular basis. A recent study found that the children benefit by 12% less overweight. You’ve seen the child obesity crisis headlines. If anyone promised they could alleviate obesity by 12%, people would be lined up for the treatment. Imagine, the prevention is a few steps away from your kitchen!
How often these meals occur is important . . . at least 5 nights a week and a visual completes the other most important conditions to reap the rich rewards for your children!