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How Eating Together as a Family Benefits Emotional Health

Eating together as a family is beneficial for your child, in more ways than one! Learn about the emotional benefits of gathering regularly for family meals.

Clang, Clang, Clang! My great-grandmother had a red bell to announce a very important event: family meals.

Meals were a time when family members gathered around the dinner table together to eat and discuss the events of the day. All work stopped; after-school activities were over; and the phone and TV were off.

It was a time to debrief, get centered, and figure things out.

Learn about the emotional benefits of eating family dinner together (no matter the meal or how many people are home).

Things are different now and it’s a little harder to get everyone together for a meal, especially with busy schedules as the norm. After-school activities also interfere with the whole family gathering for meal time.

Although sports and extracurricular activities are good for your child’s health, wellbeing, and school performance, you may feel stuck in a cycle of too many demands and not enough days to gather around the table as a family.

So what’s the solution?

First, don’t put so much pressure on dinner or believe family meals have to happen every day. We usually think of the evening meal as being the meal for a family to be together, but breakfast or brunch on the weekends, before everyone heads out the door to go their separate ways, works too.

Even lunch can work as a family meal! Even better – single parents have just as much influence on children at mealtime as do dual parent homes.

But most importantly, as a pediatric dietitian and mom myself, I believe family meals have incredibly important emotional advantages for the child.

In this article, you’ll learn about the emotional benefits of eating together no matter which meal or how many people are home to gather around the table to eat.

The emotional benefits of eating together as a family are powerful.

The Benefits of Eating Together

There are many benefits to sharing meals with your family for both children and adults.

One study showed that frequent family meals are associated with improved family life, including better family functioning, stronger relationships, and better social and emotional health for parents!

Here are some proven ways a sit-down family meal can help your child:

1. Family Meals Encourage Attachment

Children of families that eat meals together feel more supported, secure, and safe. This family cohesion is protective of physical health and emotional wellbeing. That is, as long as the environment is positive.

Kids who join the family table and are pressured to eat, or punished for their food choices or eating behaviors, may not reap the benefits of this type of family gathering.

2. Mealtime Promotes Good Behavior

Mealtime is a great way to teach good manners, promote communication, and prevent behavioral problems. The predictability of sitting for mealtime at regular times during the day can reassure a child and further equip children with social expectations at the table.

3. Meals Encourage Conversation

Conversation, both talking and listening, may be more important than what your family actually eats or where your meals happen. Good conversation promotes connection and allows your child to “figure things out” in a safe and loving environment.

Watch out for mobile devices – they definitely interfere with communication.

4. Eating Together Promotes Adjustment

Children who eat with their families frequently show better social skills and an ability to navigate social situations. That may be because of the security blanket of family and/or the skills built during an everyday conversation about challenges and successes. Family values also transfer during the meal and help children be resilient to disappointment or challenges.

5. Meals with Family Establishes Confidence

Family style eating may promote trust between child and parent, a key element in nurturing healthy eating. When you allow family-style eating at the table, you show your child that you trust he knows how to satisfy his appetite by selecting from the food items you serve for meals.

Younger children and older kids learn autonomy with food choice which helps them in the future when they are navigating food on their own.

6. Frequent Meals Together Help with Good Grades

Studies have shown that more family mealtimes each week are associated with academic performance, or better grades in school.

I’m not sure the mechanism of this, but it may have something to do with feeling connected and supported within the family, as well as having family expectations, accountability and interest in how kids are doing in school.

7. Family Meals Encourage Healthy Development

Positive family meals may contribute to a healthy child and normal growth in children. There may be a greater tendency to serve balanced meals with all the food groups, perhaps more home-cooked meals, and fewer overly processed convenience items.

8. A Good Time to Learn Manners

Children learn manners by sitting down at the table frequently and engaging in mealtime conversations, both of which allow ample teaching time and practice! Without time at the table and an adult role model, it can be difficult for children to have good table manners.

9. Positive Family Meals Encourage a Healthy Relationship with Food

As kids grow and interact with food and their feeding environment, they develop their relationship with food.

A trusting and pressure-free environment at the table helps cultivate a positive relationship with food and eating and has a protective effect against eating disorders. Too much pressure to eat, punishment or bribing at the table, or constant nagging about unhealthy food choices can cause a strained relationship with food.

Remember, a lifelong attitude, belief, and flexibility with food begins early.

10. Eating Together is Transferable

Don’t forget – dinner isn’t the only opportunity for sharing a meal together. Any time, any meal will do! You can try breakfast, or a weekend lunch together. The best part about weekend meals that take long to prepare is freezing the leftovers for a quick and healthy weekday meal or snack.

Spend time in the kitchen together preparing meals. Give your toddlers easy tasks to help in the kitchen. Older kids and teens can even help cook breakfast and lunch for the family!

Your FAMILY EATING TOGETHER: The Benefits You Won't Want Your Kid to Miss (EVER!)

The Case for Eating Together as a Family

I get it. Your family is busy with sports, after-school activities and different work schedules. It’s impossible to coordinate everyone’s schedules every night and the goal of family meal time may feel like just another commitment.

But it’s not about perfection or pressure. Family meal time can be an enjoyable time where everyone at the table benefits.

Remember, your family will get the emotional benefits of eating together as a family with just 3-5 meals per week! That’s three or more gatherings around the table while eating any meal or snack – even if there is just a single parent available!

The quality of the time counts too, so if you don’t have the time for family meals more often, turn the T.V. and phone off during the meals you do share and be fully present together.

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