Busy lives and schedules are more common than ever these days and finding ways to save time is at the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind. Skipping family mealtimes might sound like the right answer but 30 years of research says differently. Family mealtimes spent together not only have social benefits, but they also have long-term mental and emotional benefits that positively affect children and adults of all ages. Let’s find a seat at the dinner table and start reaping the benefits of sharing a meal with your family!
Benefits of Eating Family Dinners Together
- Studies have shown that preschoolers learned 1,000 more rare words during dinner conversations compared to the 143 words they might be exposed to through reading aloud. And kids who have a larger vocabulary read earlier and more easily.
- For school-age children, eating together is a more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent at school, doing homework, playing sports, or doing art.
- Teens who ate family meals 5 to 7 times per week were twice as likely to get A’s in school compared to those who only ate two or fewer meals together.
Lowered High-Risk Behavior
- Family dinners have been found to be a more powerful deterrent against high-risk teen behaviors than church attendance or good grades. Eating meals together lowers their risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and even the likelihood of developing eating disorders.
Mental and Social Health Benefits
- Eating together is a clear marker of increased mental and social health. It increases self-esteem and resiliency in children and teens and decreases their risk of depression. With anxiety and depression being seen and noted more frequently in children across all age groups, eating meals together is a simple and effective way to curb those risks.
- In a New Zealand study, the higher frequency of meals was strongly associated with positive moods in adolescents. Other research has shown shared meals can lead to a more positive outlook of the future compared to their peers who do not eat with their parents.
The bottom line?
We understand that mealtime looks different for all families. But sharing a meal together is more than just physically eating together – it provides great opportunities to build and strengthen the relationships between all family members. The power of family mealtime lies in its interpersonal quality – creating a warm, open environment conducive to sharing stories is the key to building stronger, longer-lasting relationships that grow past the dinner table. So, as long as these moments are created within your family, however it fits into your schedule and whatever it looks like for you, the experience can be transformational for everyone involved. So, pull up a chair and get ready to share.
Written By: Katie Painter, RDN