When is the last time you and your family sat down at the table together for a family meal? If family mealtime is a rare occurrence in your home, now’s the time to make it a regular routine.
Studies show that family mealtime has benefits for both the mind and the body. Some researchers even go as far as to say that family mealtime is one of the most important things you can do for your child.
Children and teens who grow up in families that regularly eat meals together are more likely to have family support, positive peer influences and positive adult role models. This can boost a child’s self-image, motivation, school engagement, values and communication.
Studies also indicate that there are academic benefits to dinnertime conversations. Young children learn more vocabulary words from the dinner table than from being read aloud to. Regular mealtime for school-age children is a stronger predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art.
Shared family meals are more likely to be balanced with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This can lead to lifelong healthy eating habits. Additionally, teens who regularly take part in family meals are less apt to engage in high-risk health behaviors, such as drink alcohol, use drugs, or smoking.
It’s important to note that family mealtime should be free from distractions, such as television and electronic devices; and for the most benefit, the atmosphere should be warm and engaging. Family mealtime should be the one time of the day where family members can open up about their day in a positive way.
Tips for making the most of your family mealtime
- Plan: The greatest benefit from family mealtime comes from the frequency and routine. While seven days a week may not work for your family, make a plan to ensure it happens at least one day per week. Even if every family member can’t be present every time, you should still make an effort to eat together as much as possible.
- Prepare: Family mealtime doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair. Enlist help from all family members. Even the little ones can help set the table, wash produce or taste test. If the atmosphere is fun and light, kids will lead by your example.
- Enjoy: Live in the moment! This is the time to really enjoy being together as a family, to share jokes or funny stories, and to belong. You also can reinforce positive social behavior, such as saying please and thank you; dining etiquette (such as not talking with your mouth full, putting your napkin on your lap, staying seated); and communication skills.
Resources to help you plan your family meal times
This is a free online cooking club for families. Receive monthly recipes that will encourage quality time and teach cooking skills for all ages.
USDA My Plate
My Plate illustrates the five building blocks for a healthy plate. This site can help in planning nutritious recipes for the whole family.
Sources: The Washington Post; the Journal of the American Dietetic Association