The data is convincing: sharing meals helps cement family relationships.
"Sitting down to a meal together draws a line around us," says Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals. "It encloses us and, for a brief time, strengthens the bonds that connect us with other members of our self-defined clan, shutting out the rest of the world."
Family mealtime does many more things – it provides an opportunity to connect, demonstrate good nutrition and eating habits, table manners, how to handle disputes, strategize social and/or academic issues at school, and stay in touch with each other.
Yet ever-increasing demands on our time have caused this once-universal tradition – the nightly family dinner hour — to erode.
In so many households, kids come into the kitchen, grab what they can, and go. People eat standing up. We head off, pairwise or individually to get some fuel in our bodies. We’re eating on the run, in our cars, and it’s on to the next sports practice or meetup.
It seems like an efficient way to use time – after all, something has to go, right?
But in study after study, the beneficial impact of family mealtime has been clearly demonstrated for children of all ages. Better grades, healthier eating habits, resistance to drugs or alcohol later in life, closer relationships to parents and siblings, ability to resist negative peer pressure, resilience in the face of life’s problems — all these are outcomes of simply sharing dinner on a regular basis.
We encourage you to make it a priority in your lives, even if it means dropping an after-school activity off the list:
- Children depend on their parents for nutrition and health guidance. 71% say they get information about how to be healthy from their mother; 43% from their father.
- 19% of teens who have fewer than three family dinners per week report that there is a great deal of tension or stress between family members, compared to 7% of teens who have at least five family dinners per week.
- More meals at home also resulted in less obesity.
- Because feeding is the most basic animal form of caring, sharing meals is one of the most central family bonds.
- Through the mini lessons of table manners, children learn to share and think of others. By saying “please” and “thank you,” we recognize the humanity of our tablemate, acknowledging the fact that we both deserve respect.
- More than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less like they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.
Here are some helpful strategies to help increase your chances of eating together as a family 3 times a week or more:
Encouraging Family Meals
- Recognize the importance of mealtime. Get the family together and discuss the benefits of dining as a group. Talk about research that documents the power of sharing this time together.
- Identify obstacles to mealtime. Coordinating schedules can be tough, but it can be done. Despite late work hours, after-school activities, and long commutes, many families are still able to make dinnertime a priority.
- Make a schedule. Set the expectation that family members will gather at specific times during the week for mealtime. These meeting times should be considered as important as soccer practice, hair appointments, club meetings, or other distractions.
- Make a plan. BigOven’s Menu Planner can help a great deal in letting you plan ahead for the week, and giving each member of the family “their night” of their favorite dish.
- Turn off the television and electronic gadgets. People who watch television while eating tend to tune out their natural hunger and satiety cues, which encourages overeating.
- Serve a variety of foods for a variety of tastes. Avoid meal-time battles by creating menus with something for every member of the family.
- Make a commitment as a family. Get the whole clan together and promise each other: "We will share mealtime as a family." Live up to that promise and watch your family grow closer and stronger.
- The Magic of the Family Meal, Time, June 2006
Source: “PowerOfFamilyMeals” and “The Surprising Power of Family Meals” by Dr. Miriam Weinstein.