It's 6 pm, you just got home from work, the kids have after-school activities, and everyone has been on the go since 7 am. Sitting down to a family dinner may seem daunting or even next to impossible. Yes, it may be easier if everyone just ate when they could or hit up a drive-thru on the way home, but family dinners aren't just about all eating at the same time. Studies have shown that families who share meals together reap significant benefits.
Families that eat together stay connected
The benefits of sitting down to a family dinner go way beyond nutrition, although that is one. Eating together as a family gives everyone a chance to talk about their day and discuss any hot topics on their mind. It is the perfect time to ask your children what they did in school or find out if your husband's client liked the pitch. Whatever the topic, it may be the only time in the day to actually talk and be present with one another. It's also good to set boundaries during dinner by having a no-cell phone or TV policy that can be distracting. Everyone might complain at first, but it actually is best in the long run.
According to a study by Cornell University, children who regularly sit down for family meals are 35% less likely to have eating disorders, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12 % less likely to be overweight. Family dinners have been linked to a lower risk of substance abuse and eating disorders and an increased chance of graduating from high school. But most importantly, it 100% improves parent-child relationships and gives kids a sense of stability and connectedness. It also sets the tone for the family unit and provides lifelong traditions that will hopefully get passed on through each generation, like Pop Pop's recipe for sticky sweet, and sour chicken.
Benefits of Family Dinners
- Bonding and making memories. Eating dinner together allows time for family bonding. Building better relationships creates a sense of belonging, which leads to better self-esteem. Research suggests that this leads to better grades and less depression.
- Learning. Sitting down together at a table allows everyone to share something about their day. It also helps toddlers and young children expand their language skills and vocabulary. It also is the best time to teach the kiddos proper table manners and how to use utensils correctly.
- Contributing. This is the fun part. Planning, preparing meals, and cleaning up are great opportunities for children to help and contribute. Children thrive when given assigned tasks, whether it's stirring the spaghetti or setting the table. It also teaches them the proper skills in the kitchen. It is also helpful if everyone has a specific weekly task, like emptying the dishwasher or clearing the table.
- Establishing routines. We all know that children, heck even adults, love having a set routine. It provides a sense of security and predictability—knowing what will happen and when. This helps with schedule planning.
- Healthy eating habits. Family meals are typically more nutritious. Studies have shown that families who eat together are twice as likely to eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. Home-cooked meals include more protein, vitamins, fiber, and less saturated fat, sugar, and sodium than a restaurant or take-out food. Plus, you can see what your kids are eating and what they are throwing away, such as the broccoli found in the dog's bowl. Studies also show that when eating family meals, one often chews slower, which helps with digestion. For more info on talking to your children about food, we have tips on that as well.
Still not convinced? Try having dinner as a family unit twice a week for a month. Even with your busy schedules, you will find that you all can carve out 30 minutes to enjoy each other's company. Plan ahead, choose easy dishes, let the kids be involved, and eliminate screen time to help incorporate family dinners into an everyday routine. Even if it's just take-out, gather around the table and learn something new. You'll miss it one day.
Life is too short to sit in a doctor’s office
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