The importance of family dinners

Family life is busier today than it has ever been before. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both parents work in almost half of all American families and the array of extracurricular activities available for children nowadays is dizzying. So many families have two parents getting home from work, a daughter at her clarinet lesson Mondays and Wednesdays and gymnastics Tuesdays and Thursdays. With a son who needs to get from his debate team meeting to soccer practice quickly as well, it’s not uncommon for family dinners to fall by the wayside. However, plenty of studies show the benefits of family dinners.

A child’s mental health
Many parents believe it’s crucial to get their children involved in extracurricular activities as early in life as possible. They want to teach their children good sportsmanship by enrolling them in school teams, or to make sure they’re succeeding in school by having them meet with a tutor. However, according to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, regular family meals contributed to higher achievement scores in students under the age of 13 than either of those factors, as well as fewer behavioral problems.

It isn’t just young school children that reaped the benefits of family meals, though. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that family dinners also had positive impacts on students in sixth to 12th grade. The study noted that kids who had support through regular meals with their parents were less likely to engage in “risky” behaviors like drug and alcohol use and sex, and also had fewer cases of depression, eating disorders, violence and antisocial behaviors.

Teenagers who regularly had dinner with their families were found less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.Teenagers who regularly had dinner with their families were found less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.

A child’s physical health
It’s no secret that on-the-go families tend to find it difficult to make time to prepare a home cooked meal. This is why those drive thru lines get so long between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. It’s difficult to get everywhere you need to be and still have the time to prepare and sit down for a meal. It’s understandable, but you and your children likely aren’t getting a well-balanced meal in the car. A study from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics founds that when parents regularly eat dinners with their children, the kids tend to have healthier diets than those who don’t partake in family meals. An on-the-go meal once in a while is unavoidable, but it’s important to try not to make it a regular method of dining.

“You can control your children’s portions.”

However, the practice of family dinners doesn’t just contribute to your children’s mental health and physical health at a young age. Another study from the Archives of Family Medicine found that when healthy diets were instilled at an early age at family dinners, children were likely to continue eating a more well-balanced diet, even in adolescence and young adulthood. Not only do family dinners allow children to gain exposure to a plethora of nutritious goodies, but as a parent, you can control your kids’ portions to ensure they’re not overeating, teaching them to eat healthy-sized meals in the future.

Families who dine together
While it’s not always possible to have a sit-down family meal every day of the week, it is important to nail down a couple days a week to dine together and catch up. According to Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, there are a few crucial aspects that should be present in your family dinners for them to be beneficial:

  • The more family members present the better. Cornell found that many studies on the subject of mealtime found that these dinners were most beneficial when both parents were present.
  • Families who ate between three and seven family meals a week together were found to experience more positive effects than families who only dined together once or twice a week.
  • Distractions take away from the experience. Televisions and cell phones were just two of the things that could negatively impact the family dining experience. Teach your kids at a young age not to bring their phones to the table, and try to eat together around a table to facilitate easy conversation.

There are many reasons that family mealtime is good for a growing kid. It’s one of the few times that an entire family is together, and it’s a good way for everyone to catch up with each other. The interpersonal connections established when a family dines together are more important than the meal itself. It’s crucial for these times to be lighthearted and positive, rather than an annoying familial obligation that every member dreads. Dining together ensures that you know when and what your children are eating, and allows you to have a positive impact on their diets.

Aubrye Foote

About Aubrye Foote

Aubrye is the Chief Mom at True Drinks. She has worked in the investor relations & public relations field for over 18 years and was one of the owners of Club MomMe until it was acquired in August 2014. She is the mom of a little girl, Brielle, and has been a blogger since 2011 just before her daughter was born.