Quick question – how often do you sit down as a family and eat a meal?
I know we don’t do it anywhere near as much as we should. Mainly due to the fact that my children are hungry and ready to eat their dinner by about 4.30 every day, and my husband is still at work at that time. It just doesn’t work for us to all eat dinner together during the week.
But I know we need to make more of an effort to find a way to sit down together for more meals. I’ve done a bit of digging around and found some really interesting points about the benefits of families eating meals together, and it’s definitely inspired me to make sure we do it more often.
Here are my top 5 benefits of eating together as a family on a regular basis:
Various studies have shown that children who regularly eat meals with their families tend to eat a healthier, more varied diet. One particular study carried out in 2000 found that the 9-14 year olds who ate dinner with their families had diets that were higher in loads of key nutrients like iron and calcium.If your children are fussy eaters then sitting and having dinner together regularly could help to increase the number of foods they eat and enjoy. A study carried out in 2003 found that children who were offered sweet red pepper every day for 8 days said they liked it more (and were eating more of it) than children who were offered a reward for eating the pepper. This research seems to suggest that constantly exposing our children to new foods, without pressure from threats or rewards, will help them learn to try, and like, different things, even if they don’t like them at first.So, eating dinner together, and offering our children new foods to try each time can gradually help them to start eating a more varied, healthy diet.
2) They’ll improve their vocabulary
Assuming you don’t sit in stony silence at mealtimes, you can help increase your children’s vocabulary by eating dinner together. Studies have found that chatting together over dinner results in children knowing, and using, more words than average.
Not only that, but they also know six times more rare words (by which they mean words that children don’t typically use) than children who don’t eat meals with their parents.
3) You can tackle bullying
Bullying is something that most children will be exposed to in one way or another while growing up, and now there’s also cyber-bullying to deal with. It’s easier than ever for children to bully each other, and perhaps harder than ever for parents to prevent it.
What research has found, though, is that eating meals together as a family can actually be helpful in recognising that bullying is going on, and addressing it.
Regularly sitting down as a family gives parents a chance to pick up on warning signs that their child is being bullied, and to provide support to help get the situation resolved.
4) You’ll form closer family relationships
We all lead such busy lives, that taking time out to sit down together and share a meal and a chat can be a great way to deepen family relationships. Studies have found that families who do often eat together are more honest and open with each other, and that the children are more likely to turn to their parents with any problems they might have.
5) The whole family will be happier
Research carried out with American teenagers found that those who regularly eat with their parents are more likely to be emotionally strong, and less likely to experience mental health problems.
They were also found to have good communication skills and manners, most likely through learning by their parents’ example.
Interestingly, the results don’t just apply to children. Studies have also found that Mothers who eat with their families are happier and more relaxed than Mothers who don’t.
Those are my top 5 benefits of eating together as a family, but there are also a few other things that I think are worth noting to really get the best out of doing it:
It doesn’t have to be dinner. If you find that your lifestyle really doesn’t allow you to sit down with your children for dinner every night, then it might be worth seeing if you can share another meal together instead, like breakfast.
Get everyone involved. Get your children sitting at the table as early on as possible, so they’re exposed to all the benefits from a young age. I find that booster seats that fit to kitchen chairs are a great alternative to high-chairs, as you can push them right up to the table so that even babies and toddlers can be part of the action.
Keep it light. Family mealtimes should be relaxed and fun. If you have young, fussy eaters you don’t want dinner to become a battleground, so try offering different foods with no pressure, alongside food they know and like. And with older children keeping things light will encourage them to feel more comfortable opening up to you.
Limit distractions. Most of the benefits of eating meals together comes from the conversations that occur during the meal, so having the tv blaring at the same time will have a negative impact. So when you sit down for dinner, turn off the tv and keep phones and tablets away from the table.
Researching and writing this post has really made me think about how I do need to make more of an effort to plan our meals so that we can all sit and eat together as often as possible. I know that on weekdays it just won’t work for us to try and eat dinner as a family, but, if I get a bit more organised, I can see how I could change our mornings a bit to make sure that I sit at the table with the children each day for breakfast.
And there really is no reason why we can’t eat lunch or dinner as a family at the weekends, I just need to get in the habit of doing it, but there are enough benefits to make it well worth it!
One thing I will say though, is that I don’t think parents should feel guilty if they aren’t able to sit down together for a meal every day. A lot of the benefits I’ve found seem to be a result of time spent together, being relaxed and chatting openly with each other, and I think you can create a lot of that away from the table. So maybe you spend a few minutes each night before bed, chatting with your child about their day, or take a little walk every day as a family and discuss what’s going on in everyone’s lives.
As long as you’re creating a space for open conversation then I think you can still reap a lot of the benefits.
But if you can find a way to have regular meals together, so much the better!