As parents most of us desire and strive to raise healthy children. Often times we overlook the simple fact that eating together as a family can have enormous benefits for your children’s physical and emotional health. Today’s busy lifestyle of both parents and children make it hard to eat meals together as a family. Since the 1950’s, the number of families who eat together regularly has been slowly decreasing. Most parents don’t realize the substantial benefits eating together regularly has on raising healthy children, both physically and emotionally.
Benefits of Eating Together
In a study by Columbia University (http://www.casacolumbia.org/upload/2010/20100922familydinners6.pdf), it was found that when you compare teens who eat together as a family 5-7 days per week as opposed to those who eat together 3 or fewer times per week, the later group is:
- Twice as likely to use tobacco
- Nearly twice as likely to use alcohol
- One and a half times more likely to use marijuana
They also reported that teens who have family dinners 5 – 7 times per week are almost two times as likely to talk to their parents about what is going on in their lives.)
Eating together as a family also helps to ensure everyone is eating healthier meals. Kids are less likely to become obese or overweight.
Social improvements were also linked to frequency of family meals. Teens who ate at the family table more often were more likely to show fewer signs of depression and feel that their family was more supportive, compared with teens who dined less often at home.
Kids’ thinking skills and linguistic development improve.
The authors of a paper published by Washington State University report that researchers have found that kids from 7 to 11 years old who did well on school achievement tests also “spent a large amount of time eating meals and snacks with their families.”
Tips on Making Meal Time Enjoyable
Here are a few helpful tips that I have found, as a mom of 4, that may help make the most out of meal times:
- Eat around the same time every night. Kids love routine. Make dinner time important. If something is important to you, it will be important to your kids.
- Eat together at the table – not in front of the TV. Turn off the TV so there is background noise or distractions. Once the TV is off, you will be able to talk and focus on each other.
- No electronics at the table- Leave your phone in another room. Emails, texts, and games can wait until after supper. Enjoy your time with the people present.
- Keep the conversation enjoyable for everyone. The table should not be a battleground. Don’t use the table as a time for disciplining kids or quizzing them about homework. Don’t allow siblings to argue at the table.
- Keep the conversation interesting. Pick a different question each night and ask everyone around the table. The dinner table is a great place to find out what’s on your kid’s heart. Some great conversation starters are:
- Assign dinnertime jobs so all the work doesn’t fall on one person. Have someone wash the vegetables, while someone else’s job will be to set and clear the table.
- Allow children to help with cooking. They will be more likely to eat things they helped prepare.
- Dinners don’t have to be elaborate to be special. Some of our favorite meal times have been when we’ve had “breakfast for dinner” or soup and sandwiches.
Eating together is one of the best things you can do to enrich the quality of your children’s lives. Commit today to make family meals a priority in your home and watch all the great things that will follow.