How Important Is Family Dinner?

For those who do not already have the habit in place, eating dinner together as a family might be a battle between parents and children or even just one more task to take on. Although it may be difficult to begin this habit or truly ensure that it occurs, recent studies have shed more light on why this particular part of the day is so critical to the development and success of children.

In 1996, the National Court Appointed Advocate Association conducted a study to look at substance use in adolescents and here is what they found:

1. For families with children under the age of 12, time spent eating together predicts fewer behavior problems.

2. Children who share frequent family meals sleep better than those who never or rarely participate in family mealtimes.

3. Frequency of family meals is related to a reduced risk of obesity and a greater consumption of fruits and vegetables.

4. Family mealtimes are a protective factor against eating disorders.

5. Children who share frequent family meals are more emotionally content, have better peer relationships, work harder in school, and have better communication with their parents than children who rarely experience family meals.

6. Frequency of family meals predicts vocabulary growth and academic achievement. Family mealtimes provide valuable opportunities for conversation and storytelling and help children acquire social skills, such as turn-taking and table manners.

7. As children move into adolescence, family mealtimes predict lower rates of drug taking, depression, and delinquency.

The research also showed that there is no cut off time point for meal times and healthy outcomes. The research gave one additional caution and piece of advice, Television viewing during mealtimes is associated with less socialization, conversation, and monitoring of children’s behavior and a greater likelihood of overeating. Thus, the television should remain off during family meals. Although the contemporary family is becoming increasingly busy and overscheduled, a very simple routine – family mealtimes – can have significant and enduring benefits for children and adolescents.”

In another study conducted by the American Psychology Association, research was done to determine how family dinner affects parent and child BMI (body mass index- a marker of obesity). In their concluding findings they stated, “Lower parent dinnertime media use and higher dinnertime routines were significantly associated with lower child BMI. Additionally, findings emphasize that promoting frequent family meals along with consistent routines and reduction in parent dinnertime media use may be important for the prevention of childhood obesity.” Clearly, it is important that parents and children spend quality time during meals in order to have lasting benefits.

Overall, family dinner provides a strong bond between family members and provides health benefits to children. Remember to put down the phones and technology, put away work and simply focus on each other. Meal time can provide some of the greatest memories that will be reflected on years down the road.

For more research on the importance of eating together as a family and information on how to do it, check out the ACPeds resources below:

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