Does your family sit down together for a meal together every day? If not, you may want to consider doing so more often. Why? Because there are a multitude of benefits, for both parents and kids alike, that stem from sharing regular family meals (and most importantly, it doesn’t have to be dinner!).
Life is busy. As parents, there are always more things to clean, more work to get done and another activity to go to, which can make life feel like a whirlwind. When things get busy, it is often easier, or more convenient, to eat dinner on the go, or feed the kids first before your partner gets home, but science has shown that you should reconsider forgoing family mealtimes, as by skipping them, you and your children might be missing out on a host of physical and emotional health benefits.
The Benefits of Family Mealtimes; What the Science Says
Family Mealtimes Improve Nutrition, Health and Eating Habits
Eating together as a family results in children eating a wider variety of food, and both parents and children who participate in regular family mealtimes are twice as likely to meet the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables, a study by Harvard researchers found.
These findings are echoed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which explains that eating as a family also increases children’s consumption of vitamins and minerals, and results in eating less sugar, saturated fats and fast food. These positive associations with nutritious food that family mealtimes nurture continue well past childhood, and develop into healthy eating habits which last for life.
This improved diet translates to a decreased risk of obesity, both as a child and an adult. A study published in the Journal of Paediatrics found a direct correlation between the frequency of shared family meals in childhood and a reduction in obesity 10 years on.
Family Mealtimes Reduce the Likelihood of Risky Behaviours
Eating together as a family drastically reduces the risk of teenagers participating in risk-taking behaviours like alcohol and substance use, and those children who participate in family mealtimes have a halved risk of alcohol and drug addiction. A Canadian research study also found that frequent family mealtimes prevented violent behaviours in children, teens and adults.
Family Mealtimes Improve Mental Health
The comfort provided by regularly eating together as a family can be instrumental in supporting children’s mental and emotional health. Columbia University found that children and teens who regularly ate meals as a family were half as likely to experience mental health issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. Stanford Children’s Health offers a potential explanation for this, stating that family mealtimes provide security, and can increase children’s self-confidence and ability to talk about their feelings.
Family Mealtimes Strengthen Family Bonds
Regularly eating meals together is an excellent opportunity to bring your family closer together, as it provides a space for family members to discuss their thoughts, feelings and ideas, increasing children’s confidence in being able to share the good and the bad parts of their life with their parents. In turn, this creates a supportive and open environment for kids to be able to speak up when they might need help.
Furthermore, a study by a psychoeducation professor in Montreal found that the social interaction and discussion of relevant issues that is facilitated during family mealtimes can make children more adept communicators. Columbia University echoes this, finding that teenagers who frequently eat meals with their families are more likely to describe their parents are someone that are comfortable confiding in and feel that their parents are proud of them.
Family Mealtimes Support Academic Development
This benefit might surprise you, but children who regularly eat with their families have a wider and larger vocabulary than their peers who do not. This translates to less difficulties at school as they grow older, as family mealtimes are shown to increase academic performance and correlate with better behaviour in school.
Family Mealtimes Benefit Adults
For adults, some of the effects of family mealtimes are similar to those they have on young children, like increased self-esteem, decreased risk of depression and better nutrition from eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables and less fast food. However, one benefit that is notably different, is that eating together as a family is directly related to a reduced incidence of dieting and harmful diet culture in adults.
How to Make the Most of Family Mealtimes
So, now that you know all about the benefits of eating together as a family, how can you make the most of mealtimes? Here are some of our Choklits top tips to make family mealtimes a positive experience for parents and kids.
- Put technology away. This is really important for a couple of reasons; keeping dinner screen free allows you to engage more completely with your family and your food. By removing technology, distractions are reduced, meaning that the people at the table can interact with each other, which is one of the key reasons that family mealtimes are beneficial. It also helps you to connect with your body, as by concentrating on what you’re eating, you are more likely to have an accurate sense of when you’re full, preventing under or over eating. This is a really important skill for children to learn, and by modelling conscious eating and supporting them to know when they’ve eaten enough, you’ll help them to develop it.
- Get the kids into the kitchen. Though at first this one may seem daunting, you can absolutely turn food prep into an activity you and your child can enjoy them helping with. Simple tasks like transferring veggies from a bowl to a tray for baking, or stirring a dressing are a perfect place to start. Children love being involved with making their own food, and are more likely to be interested in trying new things if they are active participants in preparation. Have a read of our blog on Cooking at Choklits to find out more about how we incorporate food into our curriculum at our Choklits Child Care Centres.
- Give your child agency and choices. Letting your child pick their seat at the table, who they sit next to or a favourite veggie to have on their plate is a great way to increase their communication and decision making skills, and show them that you value their opinions.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog on making the most of family mealtimes, and have learnt something about why they are so beneficial for parents and children alike. Next time you sit down for dinner with your family, remind yourself of the wonderful service you are doing your children by setting them up for success at school, positive eating habits, strong family relationships and good mental health.