In the state of California, 86.9% of families report they sit down for family meals often, according to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service. While the statistic is encouraging, it would be wonderful if more families were able to find time for family dinners, as studies have shown there to be multiple benefits for children.
Time for Children to Share
It’s hard to find time to really converse with your children during a busy week, to hear their thoughts about life and how their days are spent. These moments of quality time can be especially difficult to schedule if both parents are working or if it’s a single-parent household. Sitting down for family meals can be a great moment to pause and ask your children about their days. Depending on their age, you may be met with a grumbled, “it was fine,” but if dinner and sharing become a normal occurrence, with time they should become more comfortable opening up.
Time for Children to Learn About Their Parents
It’s important children hear from their parents, too. Parents can use this time to share about their own days, their childhoods, even their dreams for the future! Sharing as a parent shows kids they’re not being interrogated – it’s a two-way street! Sharing also gives children the opportunity to learn more about their parents – what their job consists of, how extended family members are doing, how their childhoods were, etc.
Once conversation starts building, offer children more opportunities to share. Pick their minds about family plans for the weekend or future vacation ideas! These discussions can even boost children’s vocabularies by introducing them to new words.
Healthier Eating Habits Develop
A study in 2011 by Hammons & Fiese found that children who ate three or more meals a week with their family members were 35% less likely to develop eating disorders, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12% less likely to be overweight. However, healthier eating habits tend to only improve if these family meals are happening away from a turned on TV. A study by Sara Gable, PhD, Yiting Chang, PhD, and Jennifer L. Krull, PhD, found that children eating fewer family meals and spending more time in front of the television were more likely to be overweight by 3rd grade. For healthier habits to develop, it also matters what foods are being served during family meals – a home cooked dinner or take out?
Higher Academic Performance and Less Risky Behaviors
It’s not only younger children that benefit from family dinners. A 2010 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University concludes that teenagers who have less than three meals a week with their family are twice as likely to report receiving C’s or lower in school (22% compared to 12% of teens who have dinner with family members frequently, five to seven nights a week). CASA’s 2012 report found that teenagers who ate meals frequently with family members were more likely to report good relationships with their parents, and teens reporting good relationships with their parents were less likely to partake in risky behaviors such as underage drinking and drug use.
Despite these benefits, every child and family is different. Family meals won’t magically solve relationship, academic, or teen behavior problems. View these meals as ways to bond with your family – if any of these benefits come with it, that’s an added bonus!