Family meals eaten together reduce risks of obesity, substance abuse, depression, and eating disorders. Family dinners also increase vocabulary, grades, and health.
I insisted he say a few words. It was the final day of the Marriage and Family Relations class, and everything he had ever said was pure gold. It made sense. He had a PhD in Child Psychology and had worked as a Principal in his working days. As a great-grandfather, he also had the gift of wisdom that only age and life experience can truly bestow. He acquiesced. Included in his brief sharing of wisdom, he made a final statement, “If there is one thing you can do with your family that will make all of the difference, it is to eat family dinner together together. If you can eat dinner together about five nights a week, it will all work out.”
I am an easy sell on that idea. I am a firm believer in the importance of family meals, and have even written about Prioritizing Family Meals and why. We make an effort to eat together each night. As our four children are getting older and more involved in activities, it definitely is more challenging to do this. I have to intentionally think things through, plan meals out, and prep during the day so meals can happen when everyone is home at the same time. I appreciated his words as a buoy to keep up my efforts.
Two days later, I attended a meeting for parents discussing technology for children. Included in the presentation was the power and importance of the family meal in protecting children from harmful media. The very next day, I attended a presentation for parents on how to prevent substance abuse. The number one factor to reduce risk? Family meals.
You know when you feel like the Lord is just making sure you understand something to its fullest? This was one of those moments. Clearly the family meal has power in many facets of parenting.
Before we go further, it is important to point out that the goal is a family meal. If breakfast is the time of day when a family meal can happen, that is great! Maybe lunch is your winning meal. It might even change from day to day. The idea is you are all eating at the same time, in the same place, and without distractions. The conversation that happens at the dinner table is where the magic happens. Magic? Well, it seems like it. For something that takes comparetively little time, it reduces risk in all of the big-ticket worry items parents face. One study concluded:
“The importance of the family as a key component of healthy adolescent development has been clearly demonstrated by research.1 Eating meals together is one aspect of family life that has been demonstrated to benefit young people. Family meals offer routine and consistency2 and provide an opportunity to socialize children and teach them about communication skills,3 manners, nutrition, and good eating habits.4“
8 Ways Family Meals Improve the Lives of Children
- Dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read to
This is almost mind-blowing to me because I view reading aloud to children vitally important. Research has shown that conversations at the family meal boosts vocabulary, and that it is more effective in doing so than even being read aloud to.
- Children who eat family dinner tend to eat healthier foods
Studies have even found that children who eat family meals eat healthier foods. This could be as simple as when you are eating a meal together, you usually have prepared it on some level and are more conscious about what is being served. Also, the parent is presenting foods instead of having the child find what she can find. If you are watching your child eat, you will also be sure she actually eats the vegetables. Example is also powerful, so if your child sees you eating healthy foods, your child will be more likely to eat healthy foods.
- Children who eat family meals together are less likely to do drugs or drink alcohol
Research shows that families who eat dinner together 4-5 times per week are 33% less likely to use alcohol.
- Children who have family dinner are less likely to make poor choices online
At the presentation from NetSmartz I attended for parents on internet safety, family dinner was listed as the number one way to help guard your child from the myriad of internet issues that come up (from pornography, to cyber bullying, to sexting).
- Studies show family meal time raises self-esteem and reduces depression
The study I quoted earlier discusses the impact of family dinners on depression and anxiety.
- Children who regularly have family meals together have higher grade point averages
Studies have found higher grade point averages and higher achievement in school when the child has meals with the family. Other research done by Columbia University found that teenagers who ate family meals together 5-7 times a week were twice as likely to at A’s in class than those who ate together two times or less.
- Children who have family meals have lower obesity rates and lower eating disorder rates
Research shows that there are lower obesity rates among children whose families eat family meals together regularly.
- It is an easy way to spend more time together
Family meals are not always easy to pull of, but everyone needs to eat. Having a meal each day with everyone together is a relatively easy way to spend time with each other. When you add in the list of research-proven benefits, it is time well-spent.
These eight things listed above are important to parents. These are the issues parents worry over and feel overwhelmed with. Family meals do not have to be fancy. You do not have to spend hours preparing a meal for the child to gain these benefits. While our lives are busy, we have never lived in a time more suited to help you succeed at this. A little time on Pinterest can help you find meals you can make in your budget and time limit. Time spent in parenting groups can help you get ideas on how other families fit it in (I happen to have an amazing group on Facebook). You can do this. It might take some effort, but the effort will be well worth it.