As we head into the holiday season, with families celebrating and feasting together, here are some thoughts on how we might benefit from such family time, not just over the next days, but throughout the entire year.
For generations, eating dinner as a family has been a common daily occurrence in America, but as our schedules have become busier and technology has seeped into most aspects of our lives, fewer and fewer households sit down together at the table each night without distractions. In fact, a recent study found that 47 percent of those surveyed ate dinner together as a family less than they had when growing up – even though four out of five parents love eating together as a family and almost 80 percent want to make eating together a bigger priority.
We all have the vague idea that eating together is good for the family unit–but what can breaking bread together at the same table really do for you and your kids? Researchers have looked into it–and there’s really no downside to family dinner without screens.
Let’s take a closer look.
4 Ways Family Dinner Together Makes Life Better
Family dinner means kids eat better food.
A 2018 study published in Jama Network Open followed over 2,700 kids ages 14-24 living with their parents and reported on what they ate during dinner. Their findings revealed that teens and young adults who ate at the dinner table with their family consumed significantly more fruits and vegetables, significantly less fast food and take-outs, and significantly less sugar-sweetened beverages. Another study, which focused on younger kids, ages 9-14, found that children who ate dinner with their families got more nutrients, including fiber, calcium, folate, iron, and vitamins B, C, and E.
Family dinner means better family relationships.
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that sitting together as a unit and sharing your day helps make people feel closer to each other. But just to be sure, 2006 study surveyed almost 100,000 12th graders across the country and found that families who ate dinner more frequently together reported better relationships with their mothers, fathers, and siblings. The teens also reported that they just liked having family dinner, with 71 percent claiming that talking and catching up with their family was the best part of eating together.
Family dinner means socially and emotionally healthier kids.
The study mentioned above also found that teens who eat more often with their family are less likely to engage in high-risk and destructive behaviors, including “substance use, sexual activity, depression/suicide, antisocial behaviors, violence, school problems, binge eating/purging, and excessive weight loss.” At the same time, kids with family dinner were more likely to express a “commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity.”
Family dinner means more academic success for kids.
Finally, family dinner is great for kids’ brain development and school performance. One study found that talking during family dinner helped kids’ literacy, from improving their vocabulary to developing storytelling skills and narrative comprehension. Finally, kids who eat with their family get better grades in school, according to the American College of Pediatrics.
How To Incorporate Family Dinner Into Your Life
Family dinners don’t have to be fancy or long–and you don’t have to have one every single night. The setting doesn’t matter, so go ahead and have it in your dining room or kitchen, or even at a restaurant. The food doesn’t have to be gourmet, either–though homemade is often healthier. Just make sure that there aren’t screens involved so that everyone is mentally present. If you don’t do family dinner at all, try starting with one night a week (one study found that Wednesday is the easiest place to start) and work up from there.
- Fulkerson, J. (2006). “Family dinner meal frequency and adolescent development: relationships with developmental assets and high-risk behaviors.” Journal of Adolescent Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16919794
- Gillman, M. (2000). Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Older Children and Adolescents. Arch Fam Med. http://triggered.edina.clockss.org/ServeContent
- Refrigerated and Frozen Foods. (2106). “Study Shows Trends in Family Mealtimes.” https://www.refrigeratedfrozenfood.com/articles/90952-study-shows-trends-in-family-mealtimes
- Snow, K. (2006). “Mealtime talk that supports literacy development.” New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cd.155
- Walton, K. (2018). “Exploring the Role of Family Functioning in the Association Between Frequency of Family Dinners and Dietary Intake Among Adolescents and Young Adults.” JAMA Network Open. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2715616