5 Reasons to Eat Family Meals TOGETHER AT HOME

Susan Stewart  |  June 8, 2024

Kids preparing dinner

Eating family meals together at home may seem like a Norman Rockwell painting but it actually provides remarkable benefits to the entire family! According to two decades of research from Harvard Graduate School, simply taking a few minutes each day to turn off screens and genuinely connect with each other over food can improve the physical and mental health of all family members involved.

Eating Together Encourages Healthier Eating Habits

Research shows that eating meals with family members is associated with a better diet overall, especially among adolescents. I believe there are several factors involved with this finding. When a family eats together, it causes us to slow down (aiding in digestion) and be present with our food. Conversely, eating in front of a screen can result in going through an entire bag of chips without noticing. Teens who eat with their family are more likely to consume more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugary beverages, according to a 2018 study. I know in my home, if we are eating as a family, I feel obligated to have 3 items to fill the plate- a protein, a vegetable and a starch or fruit. If I’m eating alone, I’ll often leave out the side dishes because it doesn’t feel worth the effort. So even as an adult, I’m eating better when I’m eating with my family.

Eating Together Models a Healthy Relationship to Food

In addition to eating healthier, so much is modeled through eating together, including our own relationship to food. Research shows that family dinners can reduce the risk of eating disorders when family meals include a balanced, non-restrictive approach to eating. Experts urge parents to be mindful, though, of the way their own relationships with food and body image impact kids. Dr. Jennifer Goetz, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, says, “It starts from a young age; girls as young as 6 believe themselves to be fat and have already started thinking about dieting. If parents are trying to get their kids to eat balanced meals but are themselves dieting and constantly talking about wanting to lose weight/trying to lose weight/on diets, kids pick up on that.” However, if we as parents can eat together and model a healthy relationship with food, imagine the impact!

Eating Together At Home Offers a Place to Connect Without Distractions

With more children and adults being diagnosed with ADHD, having a time and place where we are free from distractions, creates a safe and needed space. In contrast to a restaurant where there are numerous TV screens, music on the radio and multiple conversations happening at once, a meal at home with the family provides a place where only one thing happens at a time. While that may sound boring to you or your children at first, it is an excellent opportunity to relate without distractions. By encouraging your child to talk about their day as you genuinely listen, you are communicating a number of things to your child; Your child will feel seen and valued (often resulting in less behavior problems), they will learn that their feelings matter and that they are important to you. Allowing a back and forth of sharing about one another’s day also models taking turns, empathy and patience in children. Family meals is often where real connection happens between parent and child.

Eating Together at Home Teaches Table Manners

Most parents have experienced an embarrassing moment where their child did something rude or inappropriate at a meal with company. But why are we surprised if we have not given them opportunities to practice meals with others and learn table manners? A family meal teaches these manners such as how to wait until everyone is served before eating, how to pass the food around the table, how to politely ask for something to be passed, how to use a knife, how to politely refuse food they are not interested in, and how to chew quietly to name a few. Teaching these social skills creates confidence in children as they navigate the world both socially and professionally.

Eating Together at Home Creates Opportunities to Learn Responsibility and Teamwork as a Family

Food does not just magically appear on a table. It takes planning, shopping, chopping and creating. And after a meal, it takes cleaning up. Kids learn to cook by watching and helping prepare meals and they learn to clean up in similar ways. Setting routines and responsibilities around these activities gives children a sense of purpose. They learn that they contribute to the family unit. They learn that everyone has a job. So many good things!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

For more ideas, watch these videos on Spicing Up the Dinner Hour. There are 10 videos! Here is the first one.