Clang, Clang, Clang!
My great-grandmother had a red bell to announce a very important event: family meals.
Family meals were a time when everyone gathered around the 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.
Things are different now and it’s a little harder to get everyone together for a meal.
After-school activities interfere with family 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 reference meal for a family to gather, but don’t forget about breakfast or brunch on the weekend before everyone heads out the door to go their separate ways. Lunch can work as a family meal too!
Most importantly, family meals have emotional advantages for your child. In this article, you’ll learn about the emotional benefits of eating family dinner together (no matter which meal you’re able to get everyone together for, or how many people are home to gather around the table to eat).
The Benefits of Eating Together as a Family
There are many benefits of sharing meals with your family for both children and adults. One study showed that frequent family meals are associated with better family functioning, stronger relationships, and better social and emotional health for parents!
Here are some proven ways a sit-down meal with the family can help your child:
1. They encourage attachment
Children of families that eat meals together feel more supported, secure, and safe… that is, as long as the environment is positive. Children who join the family table and are pressured to eat, or punished for their food choice or eating behaviors, may not reap the benefits of this type of family gathering.
2. They promote good behavior
Mealtime is a great way to teach manners, promote communication, and prevent behavioral problems. The predictability of sitting for mealtime at regular times during the day can reassure a child. Conversation and teaching manners further equip children with the social expectations at the table.
3. Family dinner encourages 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.
4. They promote 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.
5. Family dinners establish 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.
6. They help with good grades
Studies have shown that more family mealtimes each week are associated with 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 accountability and interest in how kids are doing in school.
7. Family meals encourage healthy development
Healthy and 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, and less likelihood of overly processed convenience items.
8. They help your child learn manners
Children learn manners by sitting down at the table frequently, which allows ample teaching time and practice! Without time at the table, it can be difficult for children to have good table manners.
9. They help your child develop 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. Too much pressure to eat, punishment or bribing at the table, or constant nagging about unhealthy food choice 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!
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.
It’s not about perfection or pressure. Family meal time is an enjoyable time and everyone at the table benefits.
Remember, your family will get the emotional benefits of family meals with just 3-5 meals per week! That’s three or more gatherings of the family around the table while eating any meal or snack – even if there is just one 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.
[This article contains an affiliate link to Prepear. If you sign up for their meal planning app or recipe bank, I will receive a small commission.]
Need Help with Dinner Ideas and Meal Planning?
Eat in Peace is a workshop I designed to help you transform family mealtime. It will help you establish family style meals and minimize drama and negative dynamics at the table.
Also, if you’d like to listen to a free audio conversation about how to serve meals “family-style,” tune in to my podcast!