Written by: Senia Lee, MOTR/L
In our hectic, day-to-day lives, it’s easy to overlook the traditional family dinner. It can be so convenient to feed your children in the car, more efficient to feed the kids while you multi-task in the kitchen, and more relaxing to feed your children a quick meal before settling in with a meal with your spouse after the kids are in bed.
While it certainly requires more time, preparation, and commitment, sitting down for family meals is a very important part of the day.
Studies have shown a number of benefits from regular, family meal times. Children whose families regularly ate family meals together:
- Earned better grades and have greater academic success (Columbian University study, via http://www.abcnews.com).
- According to a study of National Merit Scholars, a uniting factor was that the scholars’ families sat down to eat dinner together 4 or more nights per week.
- Were less likely to have problems with substance abuse (Columbian University study, via http://www.abcnews.com).
- Were more likely to have a more well-rounded diet and better nutrition.
The Heart of the Matter: Why Else are Family Meals So Important?
- Our daily schedules are more hectic than ever. This makes it even more important to designate meal times as an opportunity for the family to slow down and come together, even for a short amount of time.
- Children learn important skills through modeling that occurs during meal times, including:
- Appropriate meal time behaviors and manners
- Tolerance for a variety of foods
- Exposure to new/non-preferred foods (“weird” foods!)
- Conversational skills and vocabulary
- Self-regulation to sit at the table and to wait until everyone is finished eating
- Sharing , turn-taking, and a sense of community through serving meals “family-style” Family meals, where everyone sits down (and stays seated) together, deters parents from turning into “short-order” cooks – preparing separate foods for their child due to specific food preferences.
- Consistently sitting down to family meals provides your children with stability and (much-needed) routine. While children may complain about having to sit with their family, children thrive off structure and routine; the family meal is likely more important than they realize.
- Family meals create an opportunity to “check-in,” and to discuss important happenings, time to reflect on the day, and a chance to laugh and enjoy quality time with family.
- It is crucial for children (especially adolescents) to be held accountable to trusted adults, making this “check in” time during meals especially important.
So we know meal times are important, but how do we fit them in? Stay tuned for the next blog entry with tips for helping fit family meal times into your busy schedule.