Does eating together as a family matter?

Nowadays, we spend most of our time commuting, working, shopping and going to gym. This leaves little time for cooking and eating healthy meals together as a family.

Even our children have busy schedules, and it is so easy coming home at night to opt for the easy way out – doing fast and easy foods such as pasta and sauce, and letting everyone grab and eat at their own time, usually in front of the TV.  

For this very reason it's important to get organised and start enjoying healthy meals together as a family. Research has highlighted unexpected advantages, which can be divided into nutritional, emotional, social, and educational benefits.

It is important to schedule a specific time and arrange activities to allow for meals to be eaten together. This might mean that dad has to get home earlier, perhaps doing some work later in the evening. Family meals are the glue that holds a busy family together. They should be enjoyed without distractions like TV/LED screens or even toys.

Emotional and social benefits

Eating together provides time to get connected. It helps children feel loved, safe and secure.

Several studies have demonstrated that more frequent meals with the family are associated with better psychological wellbeing, a lower risk of substance use, delinquency, and greater academic achievement.

Conversation at the dinner table allows the family to discuss the day’s events, to share feelings, opinions and to learn more about each other and what is happening in their lives.

The educational benefits

It is a perfect time for parents to be role models – not only for learning table manners, or trying new foods, but also to impart healthier eating habits.

Sharing food is important as children are more likely to eat foods their parents or older siblings are eating. Research demonstrates that children eating together with their family at a table consume more fruits and vegetables and therefore more nutrients such as calcium, iron, and fibre. In addition, children improve their vocabulary and communication skills.

The nutritional benefits 

Research demonstrated that irregular mealtimes and too much snacking and eating apart from the family are a predictor of childhood overweight and obesity. Additional research also indicates that children who participate in regular family meals are 12% less likely to be overweight. This lowered risk appears to be linked to healthier eating habits. Children who sit down for meals with their family are 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating (overeating or avoiding eating as a means of manipulation) and 24% more likely to eat healthier foods.

To summarise

The benefits of family meals include:

  • Healthier eating habits (including eating fruits and vegetables) that may advance into adulthood
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthier body weight
  • Lower risk of disordered eating
  • Less use of cigarettes and abuse of drugs and alcohol
  • Fewer behavioural problems and decreased premature sexual activity
  • Better self-esteem and less depression
  • Better grades and higher scores on achievement tests at school
  • Better vocabulary and public speaking skills

Turn mealtimes into a safe haven and an opportunity to spend quality time with the family. Make it a team effort by encouraging your children to participate in the purchasing and preparation of the food. Children can also become more involved by activities like laying the dinner table and clearing up and cleaning afterwards.

Image credit: iStock

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