What’s so magical about family dinners anyway?
Enjoying family mealtime helps with bonding and developing healthy eating habits. Unfortunately, family times has been lost in our overscheduled lives. However, dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other. In a recent study in the USA where teens were asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents: DINNER was their top answer.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of family dinners:
Researchers found that for young children, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary. Young kids learn about 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud.
Older children also benefit from family meals as regular mealtime is related with high achievement scores and higher academic performance.
Healthy eating habits
Foods prepared and consumed at home are way more nutritious than takeaways. Science says that family meals were shown to decrease the time spent on television and improve the quality of the diet; more fruits, vegetables, fewer fried foods and soft drinks.
Also, parents have tremendous influence on children’s tastes and ability to control portions. Healthy eating habits continue throughout adulthood. Adults who eat regular family meals as teens are less likely to be obese and more likely to eat healthily once they live on their own.
Decrease high-risk teen behaviors
Family dinners have been found to be a powerful deterrent against high-risk teen behaviors. Many studies relate regular family dinners with reduced risk of teenage behaviors like smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence and eating disorders. Moreover, children who had been victims of bullying bounced back more readily if they had regular family dinners.
Increase mood and well-being
Higher frequency of family meals is associated with positive moods and more positive view of the future and lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts in adolescents.
So if I am having a family dinner regularly my children will be healthier?
It isn’t just the presence of healthy foods that leads to all these benefits. The dinner atmosphere is also important. Parents need to be warm and engaged, rather than controlling and restrictive, to encourage healthy eating.
If family members sit in stony silence, or yell at each other, family dinner won’t confer positive benefits. Sharing a roast chicken won’t magically transform parent-child relationships. It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal that took three hours to cook. A dinner may be the one time of the day when parents and their children can share a positive experience – a well-cooked meal, a joke, or a story.
Clinical Dietitian- Nutritionist, MSc
Berge, J., Wall, M., Hsueh, T., Fulkerson, J., Larson, N. and Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2015). The Protective Role of Family Meals for Youth Obesity: 10-Year Longitudinal Associations. The Journal of Pediatrics, 166(2), pp.296-301.
CDC (2011). Children’s Food Environment State Indicator Report. [online] CDC. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/ChildrensFoodEnvironment.pdf [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
The Family Dinner Project. (2019). It’s Science: Eat Dinner Together – The Family Dinner Project. [online] Available at: https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/food-for-thought/science-eat-dinner-together/ [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
Trofholz, A., Tate, A., Miner, M. and Berge, J. (2017). Associations between TV viewing at family meals and the emotional atmosphere of the meal, meal healthfulness, child dietary intake, and child weight status. Appetite, 108, pp.361-366.
XU, S. and XUE, Y. (2015). Pediatric obesity: Causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 11(1), pp.15-20.