*Updated December 2021*
I remember as a child my mom always going on and on about the importance of family mealtimes.
And now that I have my own family (and a background in child development) I can see that there is good reason for this.
In this article I will go through some of the benefits of having meals together as a family (I am not going to define “family”, as long as you are eating together with adults and children it is a family).
The Importance Of Family Mealtimes
I’m going to start by acknowledging families are often very busy with differing schedules.
In many families both parents are working outside of the home and many are doing shift work.
There are also separated and blended families.
Children need to be taken to various activities after school.
Despite all of this, I urge you to try and find at least 3 days a week to get together for one meal a day.
Studies show that the positive effects of eating together as a family can be seen when family meals occur 3-5 times a week.
Assuming you have 3 meals a day and there are 7 days in a week, then there are 21 opportunities to eat together in a week.
You only need to come up with 3 – 5 out of 21 times!
You can do this!
Top 7 Benefits Of Eating Together As A Family
Mealtime Is An Opportunity For Learning
So much conversation can happen during a meal.
For a young child this is a great time for them to learn new vocabulary words.
Children can also work on following directions and problem solving by being asked to set the table.
One of the first forms of pretend play usually involves food and mealtime scenarios.
For example, your toddler might stir a spoon into an empty cup and then give their teddy bear a drink.
What children see and do during meals often ends up being mimicked while they play.
When I was practicing as a pediatric speech-language pathologist I often told busy parents to work on their child’s language development during meals!
If you grew up in a house where family meals were encouraged but talking was not, throw that idea out the window!
I challenge you to encourage (respectful) talking at the dinner (or breakfast, lunch, supper) table!
Lower Levels Of Depression Symptoms In Youth
Studies* are finding that children and youth who regularly partake in family meals have less mental health issues, in particular depression, than those who do not.
This is most likely because family members talk about their day during a meal and are typically more open to sharing thoughts and ideas with one another.
Some even claim that adolescents who eat with their families have lower incidents of smoking, drinking and illegal drug use.
However, I was not able to find any studies backing up this fact. It does make a lot of sense though.
Families that make an effort to share a meal together are probably quite in tune with one another.
More Likely To Make Healthy Food Choices
About 24%* of children who eat meals with their families tend to make healthier food choices.
If you are taking the time to have a meal as a family, it is often something that has been prepared at home and is relatively healthy.
However, if you are pressed for time (or just don’t feel like cooking) and ordering in, it doesn’t always have to be fast food and pizza.
There are many healthy options for families on the go.
Did you know that Amazon has a grocery delivery service? This includes fruits and vegetables.
While the meals won’t come fully prepared, your groceries can be delivered right to your door!
Meal prep is also a great way to get children involved in the kitchen.
Talk about the different food groups while preparing a meal.
If you have a picky eater (like my son), make sure you offer a few healthy options to choose from.
My son despises broccoli, so whenever we have broccoli, he gets to choose between that and carrot sticks.
He isn’t a huge fan of carrots either, but he will chose those over broccoli.
As a result, there isn’t any “eew, I don’t like that” when we sit down to eat, and he is still eating a vegetable.
Lower levels Of Obesity
Children who partake in family meals are about 12%* less likely to be overweight.
The reason for this is probably in part related to the previous point.
And if you are having meals as a family it is probably less likely that on-the-go snacks such as chips and chocolate bars will be eaten.
My kids are often asking me for snacks, but the answer is always no if it is right before a meal.
If they are truly hungry half an hour or so before dinner is ready they get the option of fruits or vegetables.
Less Likely To Engage In Disordered Eating
In fact some studies are saying that a child is 35%* less likely to engage in disordered eating when family mealtimes are made a priority.
Good Time To Ask Your Child(ren) About Their Day
If I ask my children how their day at school was right after school the response will always be “fine”. And they don’t elaborate.
However, during a meal they reveal so much more. Some children seem to have a hard time talking about their day with their parents. My kids are no different.
At around the age of 8 I started telling them in the morning “try to remember 2 things about school today, it can be good or bad, it can be something that happened at recess or in the classroom, but just remember 2 things to tell me about tonight at dinner”.
That approach worked well on most days.
Now both of my children will actually volunteer the 2 things that happened without me having to probe them for information.
This is a great way for you to learn about your children!
Social Skills and Manners
This one is more for families with young children.
There is a lot of turn taking and eye contact that happens during a meal.
If someone has the salad bowl, you will need to wait your turn until they are done.
You can also use this as an opportunity to focus on good manners.
“Pass me the salad please” sounds much better than “give me the salad”.
Children are like sponges and take in everything around them.
Therefore if you, the parent, is using manners your child will start doing the same.
Will You Give Family Mealtime A Try?
I don’t know about you, but to me these reasons demonstrate the importance of family mealtimes.
And remember your family meal does not need to be dinner and it can vary from day to day.
One day you might all eat breakfast together, then it might be 2 nights in a row of dinner together.
Do what works best for your family.
Do you think family mealtime is important?
How do you incorporate family meals into your busy schedule?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.