Take a moment right now and think about when your family sits down together to eat a meal—is it something that happens frequently or a rare occurrence? Is a TV usually on? Do you all sit and linger or does everyone hurry in and hurry out to continue whatever they were doing?
The family meal has become a bit of a lost art in the modern age when life moves at break-neck speed, long work schedules are juggled, digital screens are glued to everyone’s eyes, and activities and other commitments fill up the “off” hours. Whether your family is just two people or 10, eating together at the table should be a priority because it offers more benefits than many households realize. Family meals don’t have to be extravagant or consist of complicated dishes; it’s less about what’s on the table than who’s at the table.
Why eat together?
Besides the obvious fact that family time is important for bonding, here are other research-backed benefits of eating together:
- Meals tend to be more balanced and nutritious, containing the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- People eat slower and talk more, which allows more time for digestion and helps prevent overeating because there is more time to recognize fullness.
- Kids who eat with their family are exposed to a wider variety of foods and become less picky.
- It’s much-needed time to catch up, reconnect and find out what’s happening in your children’s lives. This builds closer bonds and you recognize potential issues your children might be experiencing.
- Through this time together kids build greater self-esteem and parents are able to model healthy behaviors, whether it’s choosing nutritious foods or problem-solving a conflict.
- Kids and teens who eat family meals may earn higher grades in school, experience fewer symptoms of depression, and are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, like drug use.
- For kids in early childhood family meals help develop language and social skills.
And one final benefit? It saves money—potentially quite a bit, depending on how frequently your family eats outside the home.
Make the most of family meals
Here are some tips for getting even more out of family time at the table:
- Share the responsibilities among the whole family: food prep, table-setting, and clean-up.
- Let everyone choose their own seats.
- Keep the digital device screens in another room.
- If they can’t happen frequently, set a schedule for which nights you will all eat together, and adhere to the schedule.
- If dinners are too hard try family breakfasts or weekend lunches.