Embracing the scientifically proven advantages of eating as a family, sitting down together for a meal (dinner isn’t the only option) can bring immense benefits for parents and children alike.
Could sharing meals together be the ultimate parenting strategy? In just an hour, what other activity can boost your kids’ academic achievements, self-confidence, heart health, and decrease the likelihood of substance abuse, depression, teenage pregnancy, and obesity?
Harvard Graduate School claims that twenty years of research reveal spending a few moments daily to switch off devices and engage in meaningful discussions over a meal can enhance the well-being of every family member, both physically and mentally.
Still not convinced? Take a look at some of the latest research showcasing the advantages of family meals.
1. Dining together promotes healthier eating habits.
A 2018 study published in JAMA Network Open discovered that eating with family is connected with a healthier diet overall, particularly among teens. Teenagers who ate with their families were more likely to consume fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugary drinks. However, you do not need to be the ideal happy family to qualify for these benefits: The study indicated that children were able to develop healthy habits regardless of the family’s level of functioning.
2. Dining together can help in preventing mental health disorders.
According to a review published in 2015 by a group of Canadian researchers, frequent family dinners help protect adolescents against eating disorders, alcohol, substance abuse, violent behavior, despair, and suicide ideation. Young female study participants were most likely to benefit from the mental health-protective effects of family dinners.
And according to a survey conducted by the American Health Association in 2022, 91% of parents said their families are much less stressed when they routinely eat together. Furthermore, that meal need not be dinner!
3. Dining together may prevent adult weight problems.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics identified an association between the frequency of shared family meals throughout adolescence and a ten-year reduction in the likelihood of obesity or weight problems, particularly among Black adolescents. The study concluded that families should try to eat together at least one or two times per week to safeguard their children from future weight problems.
Similar findings were also validated in a 2017 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, although that study indicated that only home-cooked family dinners were associated with a lower prevalence of adult obesity.
4. Dining together can boost the self-esteem of children.
According to researchers at Stanford Medical Children’s Health, a pediatric health care system linked with Stanford Medicine and Stanford University, the security offered by frequently eating together as a family can help youngsters develop greater self-confidence.
By encouraging your children to discuss their day (and listening attentively to their comments), you demonstrate that you cherish and respect their uniqueness. Children should be permitted to choose their own seats and encouraged to help with dinnertime activities, such as setting the table, serving the food, and tidying up.
5. Dining together can improve interpersonal skills.
A 2017 Canadian study that followed a group of children from infancy through childhood found that participants whose families had excellent meal experiences at age 6 demonstrated various favorable outcomes by age 10.
In an interview with Science Daily, Linda Pagani, the study’s supervisor and a professor of psychoeducation at the Université de Montréal, noted that the social interaction and discussions of current events at the table can help children become better communicators, in addition to improving their general health and fitness.
6. Dining together may help children with bullying.
Cyberbullying has clear correlations with anxiety, sadness, and substance abuse, according to a 2014 assessment of over 19,000 students published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Yet this is a significant issue, with as many as 1 in 5 young people experiencing cyberbullying.
Nonetheless, adolescents who ate dinner with their families (preferably at least four times per week) reported fewer bullying-related issues. Regular family contact promotes stronger parental guidance and open communication between children and their parents, according to the study’s authors.
7. Dining together may complement family counseling.
According to a 2016 case study, the eating routines of families who are receiving therapy together can give therapists useful information about the family’s dynamics. In addition, families might be encouraged to experiment with new roles and communication patterns around the dinner table, using lessons learned during treatment.