School, work, homework, and after-school practices and activities often eat up a lot of time. It’s common to see parents reverting to quick, on-the-go meals in the car or in front of the TV. In doing so, parents are missing out on the many benefits to eating dinner as a family, even if it is only a few times a week.
Studies have shown that children who regularly eat meals with their parents are more likely to consume a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Parents can control exactly what goes into the food and what type of food goes on their table, reducing the likelihood their child will be overweight.
Reduce occurrence of eating disorders
Research has shown that positive family meal atmospheres significantly reduce the occurrence of eating disorders, regardless of age and demographics. Through frequent family meals, parents can actively instill healthy habits and positively influence their childrens’ health and nutritional choices.
Benefits beyond nutrition
Although nutritional benefits are a significant positive outcome of family meals, the food being served is not necessarily the most important part of the meal. Family meals and the interaction that follows also have lasting benefits.
Improve parent-child relationships: Eating as a family can improve your child’s sense of stability and connectedness.
Fewer behavioral problems: Studies have shown that children under 13 who regularly eat meals with their family tend to display fewer behavioral problems.
Improved literacy and vocabulary: Mealtime conversations have been linked to improved literacy; researchers have even found that these dinnertime conversations expose children to an even larger number of spicy, rich (less common) words than being read to every night.
Less inclined to risky/rebellious behavior: While the frequency of family meals tend to decrease over time, research has shown that those who do have regular family meals were happier, healthier, and less likely to display risky or rebellious behavior.
Enjoy each other’s company!
The most important part of having a family meal is to enjoy each other’s company. Family meals should be a time for open, positive communication. Encourage your child to talk about her day and share her experiences. If your child has a difficult time thinking of something to share, ask questions to get them talking. Conversation starters include:
- What do you want to be when you grow up?
- If we could go anywhere on vacation, where would you like to go?
- Did you help anyone today? Did anyone help you?
- What were the best and worst things about school today?
No matter what the food is or where the conversation goes, the benefits of eating meals as a family are many. Enjoy your time together!