Finding time to sit down, have a meal, and share stories about the day can be a difficult task for today’s families. Often, meals are eaten on the go, in the car, in separate rooms, at sporting events, or not at all. If mealtime is shared among family members, the focus is often on the television instead of each other.
Family meals, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner can positively benefit children in a variety of ways.
Family meals, prepared at home, are more nutritious. Meals prepared at home typically contain fewer processed foods and calories than meals prepared in restaurants. According to a Harvard study, families who eat together are twice as likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables as families who do not share mealtimes. Family meals can influence food intakes and behaviors, and as a result will impact a child’s eating habits, diets, and overall health.
Family meals provide an opportunity for parents to be role models. This is a chance to model healthy eating habits and build better relationships by spending quality time together. This often results in better self-esteem and a sense of belonging for children. Frequent family meals can foster a more open environment for kids to talk to their family about their day.
Family meals can prevent substance abuse in teens. Alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are the most commonly used substances among young people in the United States. By 12th grade, two-thirds of students have tried alcohol. Sharing a meal with teens can provide them with the confidence to resist the temptation of alcohol and drugs. Teens who share meals with their families are more comfortable conversing with their families and more likely to confide in their parents.
Family meals can prevent disordered eating habits. In the U.S., 30 million people have an eating disorder, 95 percent of these people are between the ages of 12 and 25. Though genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits can contribute to developing an eating disorder, youth who ate more frequent family meals were less likely to initiate disordered eating behaviors.
Family meals can prevent obesity. Families that eat five or more meals per week together have children that are approximately 25% less likely to develop nutritional health issues than children who eat one meal per week with their families. Adults and children are less likely to overeat during family meals because they eat slower and talk amongst themselves.
Family meals can improve kids’ grades. According to Columbia University survey, teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades in school. Twenty percent of teens who have less than three or four meals per week reported having mostly Cs or below in school. Mealtime conversations can also teach children more vocabulary than when parents read aloud to them.
Tips for successful family meals:
- Plan which meals you will share together according to your weekly schedule
- Make family mealtime stress-free
- Focus on the time together, rather than preparing an elaborate meal
- Include children and family in weekly menu planning
- Be consistent, each week
- Involve each member, whether it is in preparing the food, cooking the food, setting the table, or cleaning up, afterwards.
- Turn off the television and other devices
- Utilize online resources for ideas (The Family Dinner Project is an excellent resource for today’s busy families.)