One of the things I’m most passionate about when it comes to parenting is family meal times.
I used to write about this a lot more when the blog was more parenting focused and less sex focused, and I haven’t talked about it in a while. But it’s so important that I’d like to revisit it today and try to convince you with 10 reasons why you should be eating dinner around a table tonight. And then I’ll add 3 ways to make that more fun!
When my daughter Katie was about 11, I remember her saying to me, “You know what I like about our family, Mommy? We eat together.”
It’s such a little thing, but when the girls had friends over, it’s amazing how many would confess that it was a new experience for them. Most people eat in front of screens, or they grab dinner on the run.
And that’s not good. It’s over food that we connect, talk, share, and bond.
But I know meal planning takes time, especially when everyone has busy schedules. But it is more important for your family to eat dinner together at least 3 times a week than it is for your kids to all be in soccer, or to all be on the baseball team. Family trumps sports. As adults, kids will remember sitting with family and the relationships that grew from that far more than they will anything else.
If you don’t have time to eat dinner together, you’re doing something wrong. If I can be so bold–you have to change your schedule. No ifs, ands, or buts. And if you don’t believe me, read on! Here are 10 benefits from eating together:
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Eating Dinner as a Family Is Good for the Body
1. When families eat together, everyone tends to eat healthier overall.
When people eat at home, they eat a lot more fruit and vegetables, get more nutrients, and tend to have a lower incidence of obesity. I think this is also because parents are watching what everyone eats! And when we snack in front of the TV, we eat way more than if we were sitting at a table. By eating dinner at a table, too, there’s an actual “dinner time”, so you can limit some snacks so they don’t “ruin their dinner.” When there isn’t a natural dinner time, or when parents cook kids what they want to eat when they want to eat it, kids tend to consume more unhealthy foods.
2. When families eat together, children show better fitness levels.
A recent Canadian study out of the University of Montreal found that when kids eat dinner with their parents at age 6, they’re more likely to have good fitness when they’re age 10. Here’s why this study matters: before this study, people wondered if healthier people were more likely to eat dinner as a family, and thus their kids would also be healthier. But this study started following the kids at infancy, and so they could measure those factors. They found that eating dinner as a family was statistically significant–it wasn’t just that healthy people tended to do healthy things.
3. When families eat dinner together, children consume more nutrients.
Here’s how the Dairy Council of California summarized the body of research on this:
A large body of research also supports the link between family meals and nutrition. A Harvard University study published in the Archives of Family Medicine found that families who ate together almost every day generally consumed more important nutrients like calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6 and B12, C and E, and less overall fat than families who rarely ate together. During adolescence, family meals also contribute to higher daily intakes of fruit, vegetables, calcium and other important nutrients, and lower intakes of soft drinks. A research review published in the scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that children and adolescents who eat three or more meals with their families per week are 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods and 12 percent less likely to be overweight than peers who do not eat with their families as often.
Eating Dinner as a Family is Good for Kids’ Brains
4. Children from families who eat meals together get better grades than their peers who don’t have lots of family meal times.
Older children also reap intellectual benefits from family dinners. For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art.
Other researchers reported a consistent association between family dinner frequency and teen academic performance. Adolescents who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.
5. Better language skills in children is associated with family dinner times.
Basically, talking around the table to your parents is great practice!
Participation in dinner table conversations offers children opportunities to acquire vocabulary, practice producing and understanding stories and explanations, acquire general knowledge, and learn how to talk in culturally appropriate ways.
Researchers counted the number of rare words (words not found on a list of 3000 common English words) that were used in dinner table conversations. It turns out that kids will hear, on average, 1000 rare words at dinner, and only 143 in storybooks. Dinner matters!
It’s Good For Emotional Health
6. Children of families who eat together report feeling happier and are more optimistic about the future
A Lou Harris/Reader’s Digest poll found that kids who ate with their parents were happier. My guess is that this is because parents’ love and approval of the kids starts to counteract the negative messages kids can get from peers or social media, and helps them feel more grounded.
7. Teenagers are less likely to use drugs, smoke, and drink alcoholic drinks, when their families eat together regularly.
I’ve read several studies on this over the years (here’s a roundup of some of them), and my husband frequently talks about this in his pediatric practice to parents with behavioural problems in their children. Eating dinner together means that you talk. Parents know what’s going on in kids’ lives. Kids know we care. So they’re less likely to give in to peer pressure!
Eating dinner as a family is one of the most important things you can do to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted kids!
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8. The more often teen girls had meals with their families, the less likely they were to have symptoms of depression and suicidal behaviors.
It’s not only that kids are involved in fewer risk-taking behaviours; they’re also less likely to suffer from mental health problems. This effect seems to be especially strong in girls (or perhaps they’ve just studied it more in girls), but that’s likely because of social media’s especially destructive influence on girls. Counteract that with family time, and kids do better!
Eating Dinner as a Family is Good For Family Bonding
9. Kids who ate dinner at the table with their parents exhibited better behaviour.
Eating dinner the traditional way–at a table in the kitchen or dining room, with no screens on, and with people talking to each other–is associated with the best outcomes. So turn off those screens!
What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?
10. Eating together gives family members the chance to communicate and build relationships, something that both adults and children appreciate very much.
We’re all busy – even our kids are busy these days with all their sports and activities! But don’t ever let yourselves become too busy that you can’t eat together as a family on a regular basis. This really does matter!
3 Things to Help with Making Family Dinner Fun!
Talk to your kids, not your spouse
Kids act up, whine, fall out of chairs, and fight with their siblings primarily when they’re bored. So engage with them! Do what my cousin Danielle does at dinnertime. The family goes around the table and everyone says one time they were brave today, one time they were kind today, and one mis-step they made. Then they praise each other and affirm each other for the good stuff, and console each other over the mis-steps and help them not to do it again. This also ensures that everyone in the family gets listened to!
Have a ritual at the table of something you do together
Maybe it’s memorizing a Bible verse a week (you can use my 50 Bible Verse post for that!). We also used the amazing BrainQuest trivia cards, and we had a Canadian trivia game and we’d play a few rounds every night after dinner. Even guests had to play (and they actually thought it was kind of cool, though my nephew Matthew answered “Charlottetown” no matter what the question was. Sometimes he was even right!).
Get your kids involved in meal prep and meal planning
I love the Eat2Explore subscription box for this! It’s a monthly subscription box that turns eating into an adventure. You choose a cuisine, a country, or a continent. Then every month you get a box sent to you with three recipe cards, spice and gravy mixes, plus a shopping list for fresh ingredients.
But then here’s the fun part: You also get country explorer brochures for your kids, including passports where they can collect country pins. Educational activity sheets with word puzzles, math problems, and quizzes add to the fun. Then you get stickers and more to go in kids’ passports, and fun cooking tools like measuring cups!
If your kids are picky eaters, it’s a great way to make trying new things fun! Plus they can be involved in the meal prep, too, or they can do the activity sheets in the kitchen with you while you cook.
Check out Eat2Explore, and make dinner a few times a month an awesome educational time, but also super fun!
I miss my family meal times now that the kids are all grown and gone.
But honestly, it was one of the best things we did. And my girls make a point to eat at the table for dinner now with their husbands, too!
Maybe it’s time to figure out how to make family meal times more of a priority–even if it means getting other things off of your schedule this year.
Do you tend to eat dinner together? What gets in your way? Let’s talk in the comments!