Do you struggle to get everyone together for family dinners and wonder whether it even matters?
Do you order take away or buy oven ready meals for dinner because everyone’s schedule is different?
After school activities, homework, sports and work deadlines can all collide in the evening.
As a result, fast meals on the go are the norm for many families.
No judgement. I know the craziness of two working parents, opposite shifts and after school activities just before or after regular dinner time.
We are semi-frequent consumers of on the go meals.
Despite the craziness, we still try to have family dinners as often as possible.
It doesn’t happen all the time. But it has become the norm in our home for all of us to come together at dinner time.
Why? Research shows family dinners are worth the effort.
Research Proves Family Dinners Matter
Study co-author Linda Pagani, a pyschoeducation professor at the Université de Montréal, said:
“Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children’s well-being. From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children’s physical and mental well-being”.
Researchers found children who had regular family dinners were more physically fit, demonstrated better social skills, and displayed less aggression compared with children who didn’t have regular family meals.
The study tracked around 1,500 children born in 1997 and 1998. Researchers used reports from parents, teachers and even the children themselves.
They looked at the link between the frequency of family dinners at age 6 and the children’s traits 4 years later.
They found children who had regular dinners with their parents were healthier across multiple measures. The researchers didn’t believe the type of food served was solely responsible for the wide range of health benefits.
How Can Family Dinners Benefit Children?
Time spent with children is always important. They model our behaviour, they feel cared for, and they can be active participants in the family unit. But what’s so important about dinner time?
Pagani said, “The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting”.
Sharing a meal together creates a time where natural interactions can lead to learning. When you sit around the table together, conversation tends to happen naturally.
Parents and older children share conversation and younger children learn these skills naturally.
An ordinary conversation about your day can encourage deeper relationships within the family.
Sharing a meal together provides a setting to connect and interact, rather than simply coexist in a house.
In addition to this research, other studies have also found benefits of family dinners, including:
- Better relationships between children and parents
- Increased vocabulary in younger children
- Good behaviour among teens: frequency of family meals is a better predictor of good behaviour than church attendance or academic grades
- Children are more likely to have a healthier diet
- Teens exhibit more optimism and overall have a better, more positive outlook on life.
You’d be hard pressed to find parents who say having regular family dinners is easy or stress free.
The research shows, however, the effort you put in is very worthwhile. Sharing dinner as a family has clear physical, mental and social benefits.
Why Are Family Dinners Stressful?
We live in a time of constant electronic distraction and busy schedules. There’s pressure to be the best parent possible, and we feel we need to:
- Read all the labels
- Watch sugar intake
- Prepare meals from scratch
- Make sure the kids get enough sleep
- Keep up with school and activities
- Be in a positive mood
- Maintain work commitments
All these things are great. Nutrition is important. Education is vital. Being in a good mood makes the environment in the family home more positive.
However, the pressure to do all of these things leaves many of us exhausted. Especially if we’re comparing our lives with the highlight reels of other mamas on social media.
It can feel like added pressure to get everyone to sit down to a family meal at the end of a long day.
In the end, it’s all about balance and reality. As parents, we can read the research, look at our lives, and just try to do our best.
Whatever that looks like for us, it’s really all we can do.
Tips To Implement Family Dinners
If you’re looking at your life and trying to figure out how to implement family dinners, take baby steps. Consider these:
- Start small – pick 2 or 3 designated days for family meals. As it becomes more of a norm, you might find it easier to maintain.
- Look at your priorities – can you change something in your evening routine or schedule to make family dinners easier?
- Focus on nutrition – but not at the expense of actually eating together. Preparing easier meals during busy times at least makes sure you can all enjoy a meal together.
- Share breakfast or lunch meals instead – especially if you and your partner work opposite schedules or you have too many evening activities.
- Turn off electronics, TV, phones, etc. a few minutes before dinner, and keep them off during meal times.
Life can be chaotic. We have so much to squeeze into each day. We can’t always prioritise every ‘good’ parenting thing, but having family dinners really shows clear benefits.
We’re all aware of the the challenges facing children today, such as childhood obesity, technology addiction, bullying and depression. We all want solutions to help our children avoid these challenges.
Having family dinners might not be a cure-all for our generation’s parenting challenges. But it is definitely one way to improve the future for our kids.
Do you have a toddler who makes you dread meal time? Be sure to read Toddler Meal Times A Stress? 11 Tips For Fussy Eaters to learn more about making mealtime enjoyable for the entire family.