Benefits of Family Dinner
With busy schedules, the convenience of fast food, and enticing electronics, it can be difficult to coordinate family meals on a daily basis. How important is it really to have family dinners? Well, research tells us that it is actually quite important, particularly for children and teens. Regular family dinners can promote a range of physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits so here are some research-backed reasons for prioritizing family meals as you are able.
Family meals stimulate conversation between parents, children, siblings and spouses that may not otherwise occur. This conversation can help identify early signs of mental health concerns in children and teenagers, including eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. Eating together can create a supportive environment for natural communication and addressing these issues early. Here are some tips for conversation starters:
- Ask about your child’s day. This expresses interest in your child’s life
- Talk about food in a positive manner to support a healthy relationship with food
- Discuss current events that are age-appropriate
- Encourage all family members talk (including your child) and use active listening
In addition to the positive developmental and cognitive outcomes from family meals, we can’t forget about the nutritional benefits as well! Eating together provides the opportunity to demonstrate positive role modeling for picky eaters and general healthy eating. Cooking and eating at home often results in increased fruit and vegetable intake and lower obesity risk. Here are some tips to consider:
- Have theme nights to expand your child’s palate, such as Mexican, Italian, Greek
- Introduce new vegetables and role model by serving yourself a portion too
- Follow the USDA’s MyPlate guide for food group recommendations
Family dinners are correlated with reduced frequency of high-risk behaviors (e.g. substance use) and improved academic performance. Eating together produces a sense of security and unity that is incredibly valuable to a developing child. To make the most of mealtimes, try some of these suggestions:
- Turn off televisions, mobile devices, etc. during dinner
- Aim for at least 4 to 5 family dinners weekly
- Include all family members in meal preparation and/or clean up as well
Changing routines can be challenging, but the benefits of family meals are incredibly rewarding. Consider some of these tips when planning your dinners next week!
MS, RD, LDN
Lydia is a Licensed and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who enjoys counseling clients with diverse backgrounds. She obtained her B.S. in Nutrition Sciences at NC State University with a Minor in Sports Science and her M.S.