You won’t be shocked to hear that we’re all fans of family dinners. But you may be surprised at the reasons top researchers, pediatricians, teachers and pediatric dietitians all cheer when you make the commitment to family meals. Here’s a look at the science-based reasons you should sit down together over a meal.
5 Reasons to Eat Meals Together
1. Family meals foster positive family relationships.
Family meals provide an opportunity to sit and be present with each other after busy days. The mealtimes reinforce values, traditions and cultural connectivity. A report from CASAColumbia (CASA*) at Columbia University says that families who shared meals 5 to 7 times per week were less likely to use drugs, smoke or consume alcohol. Yes, positive family relationships and open communication around the table are that powerful!
Psst… Keep the conversation around food positive to decrease battles at the table. Here’s why it’s actually not good for children to join the clean plate club.
2. Family dinners encourage kids to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables matters for long-term health. The average American eats only 2 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This report in the journal Appetite supports that sitting down to a family meal encourages kids to eat a greater variety of foods, and increases fruit and vegetable consumption. Let’s face it, kids’ meals across America typically offer French fries for a vegetable choice, and that’s not the variety we’re looking for in healthy meals. If you worry about your child’s weight, focus instead on family meals, serving a variety of fruits and vegetables, and modeling a healthy relationship around food.
Read more about why the Ellyn Satter Institute calls family meals magical!
3. Family meals empower kids with lifelong healthy food preparation skills.
Give a kid a chicken nugget and he or she eats for a night. Teach a kid how to make chicken nuggets and he or she can eat for a lifetime! Apply that scenario to all foods, from salads to sandwiches. The science supports that family meals improve food prep skills.
To start, it can be as simple as serving the meal family-style and empowering them to top their own salads or build a sandwich. Touching and playing with food is important for all children, not just picky eaters, because it encourages them to try all kinds of new foods.
Bookmark this list of easy dinners kids can help make.
4. Family dinners lead to better sleep habits in children.
Sleep is powerful! We know that kids who have better sleep habits have better grades in school. Did you also know that family meal times help foster positive sleep habits? It’s true. In a study on urban children, those who never had family meals had a much shorter sleep duration than those who ate at least 5 meals with their family.
5. Family meals reduce TV-watching or screen time.
In order for mealtimes to make a difference, it’s important to set this rule: “No screens during meals.” The research has warned us about brain development and screen time in toddlers. Plus, screen times are correlated with harmful outcomes for teens, from mental health to sleep disruption. With a rule in place and family meals a focus, screen time did decrease for children in this study looking at healthy outcomes with family meals.
How to Eat More Family Meals
Do we have to limit family meals to dinner? The simple answer is no. Family meals are not defined by what and when we are eating, but that we are sitting and eating together. If your evenings are hectic, here are a couple ways to fit in more family meals:
- Focus on breakfast as your family meal instead!
- Instead of eating out, pick up a variety of foods at a restaurant or grocery store and serve them family style (where kids self serve).
- Prep ahead, whether it’s with an Instant Pot meal, a slow cooker or serving up simple sandwiches. The more you prep ahead, the easier it is to establish a healthy habit for your family.
Family meals may look different in every home, but sitting down as a family and sharing a meal together is important for everyone. If you’re opting for home-cooked meals instead of takeout, try some cheap dinner ideas the whole family will love.