18 Benefits of Family Mealtime
18 benefits of family mealtime cover all areas of children’s lives and development.
These include physical and mental health, social development, language skills, educational advantages, family bonding, and fewer incidences of risky or negative behaviors, to name a few.
Intro – Relating Family Mealtime and Social Skills Training
When thinking about writing this blog, I was reminded of similarities between family mealtime and its benefits, and social skills training and its benefits. You see, both are things that were a normal part of our daily lives quite a while ago. But, over many years, and for many reasons, both have somehow gone out of favor or lost their prominence in our lives. And now, in both, we are seeing the negative outcomes of our loss of them. So, we find ourselves seeking new ways to incorporate them back into our lives to help fix the results of their lack.
Where we are Today
Over the last 30-40 years, family mealtime has dwindled by more than 30%. We can blame our fast-paced society, the time crunch of dual-income families, increased kids’ activities, scheduling conflicts, time required in food prep, increased screen time and the lack of connectedness that comes from that, to name a few. Most Americans report that they have fewer family meals a week than they did growing up. But, families as a whole wish that they had more time to enjoy meals together.
18 Benefits of Family Mealtime – Physical
1. Better Overall Physical Health
Family mealtime helps children learn to have a healthy relationship with food; thus preventing later eating disorders. These children are more likely to be in normal weight ranges. Family meals are times where kids can be encouraged to be more physical; and can include planning fun family outings that include more exercise. In addition, mealtime is a good time to discuss behaviors that you don’t want your kids to participate in; those detrimental to their health.
2. Better Nutrition
A Harvard study showed that meals prepared at home are generally more nutritious. They tend to include more fruits and vegetables and fewer prepared foods. Certainly, a pizza night is fun and can be enjoyed occasionally, but the focus should be on the rest of the meals containing a mixed assortment of healthy family favorites. Start a discussion around the table about the benefits of good nutrition. Ask your kids to look for new, healthy food ideas to try.
3. Fewer Picky Eaters
Family meals give kids opportunities to try new foods. It expands their food choices and many find that they actually like the new foods. Picky eaters can be encouraged to try a new food each week. Ask them to critique what they do or don’t like about a food; color, texture, taste, etc. Ask other family members to state the benefits of a certain food. They can cheer on the picky eater as he tries new foods. Most importantly, don’t cook special foods for the picky one. Rather, say, “This is what we are having tonight. I hope you will like it.” At least require the child to taste the food.
4. Less Obesity
Family meals prepared at home tend to be smaller portions that those served in restaurants. Learning healthy portion control from an early age can help prevent kids from starting the road to obesity. Research shows that people tend to eat more slowly, thus consuming less, when eating and talking around the dinner table. Regularly eating healthy, nutritious, home cooked meals is an important key to stopping the obesity epidemic we have today.
18 Benefits of Family Mealtime – Emotional
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5. Family Bonding
Eating meals together frequently has been shown to strengthen family bonds.
They reinforce the family connection; reconnecting and sharing life at the end of the day. And, they are a time for sharing values, ideas, and planning trips and things to do. There should be a focus on the quality of your time together; establishing a sense of security and belonging, especially in younger children.
6. Better Emotional Health
A Canadian study found more frequent family meals resulted in fewer emotional and behavior problems, contributing to a greater sense of well-being. [see link below]. Kids who are routinely eating meals with family have increased self-esteem and self confidence. This has to be attributed to the additional attention they are receiving at mealtime. Additionally, family meals show decreases in depression and drug use.
7. Relieves Stress in both Kids and Parents
Sitting down to a family meal after long work or school days gives everyone an opportunity to take a breath and decompress. Plus, you can enjoy each other without the normal distractions. Use this time to assess mood or behavior changes in kids and offer ways to relieve those. This is the perfect time to catch bullying or other problems kids are having in school or online.
8. Decrease in Screen Time
To achieve this benefit, parents have to be strict about turning off the TV during family meals. And, devices must be restricted while at the table. This may be hard for some parents, but modeling this is the only way to get kids to comply. Plus, listening and engaging attentively to your kids shows them you are really interested in what they have to say and in interacting with them.
18 Benefits of Family Mealtime – Educational
9. Better Grades
Numerous studies have shown that kids and teens exposed to frequent family meals together have better grades than kids who aren’t having so many meals with family . The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that kids with 5-7 family meals a week reported mostly As and Bs, while kids with fewer meals together were reporting mostly Cs or worse.
10. Improved Communication and Language Skills
Mealtime is where the typical family converses the most with each other. Kids pick up on adult styles of language and communication; expanding their vocabularies. They gain confidence in speaking and listening, sharing ideas, asking questions, and other ways of expressing themselves. This is a safe place where they can be themselves.
11. Opportunities to Improve Social Development
Kids who are regularly eating family meals are exposed to conversing with adults rather than just peers. They learn good conversation skills, as well as the give and take required in conversation. They are learning table manners and how those become good habits what will last a lifetime. Just using utensils and taking turns teaches patience in little ones. Interactions with siblings offer key insights into developing a kind, caring, and empathetic personality.
12. Opportunities for Parents to be Role Models
Family mealtime is a great opportunity for parents to teach and model behaviors that they want to see in their children. The “do as I say” no longer applies where kids are concerned. They now follow the “do as I do” motto. So use this time to teach social skills, your family values, how to handle situations in their lives, settling disputes, and other things that the family needs to deal with. Let your kids know that you are there for them in every area of their lives.
13. Teaches Responsibility, Routine, and Punctuality
Family mealtimes at specified times gives kids a timeline for their day and activities. They set up a routine that gives kids security and something to look forward to. Daily chores associated with the mealtime teach responsibility and a connection to the family. These meals teach kids that punctuality shows respect for other family members.
18 Benefits of Family Mealtime –
Teens and Adolescents
14. Lowers Risky Behaviors
The CASA study at Columbia University also found that the more frequently kids eat family meals together, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs. Teens who don’t participate in regular family meals are twice as likely to use alcohol. Those without this connection are four times more likely to use tobacco. And, those who miss out on family meals are considerably more likely to have friends engaging in risky behaviors.
15. Improves Teen Relationships with Parents and Siblings
One study showed that 70% of teens felt that the best part of family mealtime was being able to connect with, bond, and share their lives with their families. Teens are twice as likely to have good relationships with siblings when sharing meals. And, their relationships with both parents are greatly improved. Some teens have reported that they would like to see the number of family dinners increase; as well as the length of time for each. That’s a great testimony for family mealtimes.
16. Making Memories/Establishing Traditions
Family meals create memories for children, especially those that include grandparents and other extended family members. Holiday dinners typically must include the favorite, traditional foods. Getting together for family meals establishes traditions that kids will carry into their own families later in life. You will be pleased when your child calls to get the recipe for a dish that was always part of your traditional family dinner.
Family Mealtime Saves Money
17. We all Want to Save Money
In a Harvard Business Review study conducted several years ago, it was found that families spend, on average, about $3,000 a year on food eaten away from home. That’s roughly $250 a month. Most families can cook and eat at home for about half the cost of eating out. Those figures are probably a bit higher now since the study is a few years old. (2017). This more recent article deals only with the monetary benefits of eating at home. But I’d have to believe that saving money here allows for additional funds to be available to do other fun, family activities. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/save-money/dont-eat-out-as-often/
18. Promoting More Family Mealtimes
- Make family mealtime a priority in your home and try to have these meals several times a week.
- Family mealtime can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In fact, it might be more fun to switch those around.
- Start small, and increase the number of meals a week as you go.
- Get kids on board with fun, clever ideas, and have them help with menu planning. For instance, try having breakfast for dinner.
- Ask kids to come prepared to share things, such as how they were kind today, who they helped today, what was something kind someone did for them, or what are they grateful for. Older kids can record these in a journal.
- Establish the NO TV/NO Devices Rule at the table!
- Rotate assigned set up and clean up chores for before and after the meal.
In conclusion: “Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental benefits.” according to a recent Canadian study. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171214092322.htm
© Barbara Gilmour