Between after school activities, late nights at the office, and unexpected scheduling conflicts, family meals are more a relic of the past than a common occurrence in households today. Pancake breakfasts have been replaced with burnt toast scarfed down in the car, and dinners at the table exchanged for burgers and fries grabbed at a drive thru on the ride home.
While the convenience of such meals may seem necessary for sheer lack of time, family dinners serve greater purposes that should not be overlooked. Instead, they provide exceptional physical, psychological, and developmental benefits crucial for a happy and healthy family.
Eat Well, Be Well
We all know that take-out is typically far less healthy than a home-cooked meal. Though we often give in to convenience. The nutritional benefits, however, of family dinner are certainly worth the extra time and effort.
In fact, studies show that families who eat together tend to consume more vegetables and fruits. Subsequently, adolescents have diets rich in key nutrients such as calcium, fiber, and iron. By gathering for a meal, your family is presented the opportunity to discuss nutrition and the benefits to having a balanced diet.
Benefits to Development
Spending a portion of each night among the ones you love can have a positive impact on the emotional and psychological well being of each family member, particularly young children and teens. Studies have linked regular family meals to avoidance of high-risk behaviors such as violence, smoking, and eating disorders among teenagers. This is likely due to the continued reinforcement of values, boundaries, and expectations set by parents that may otherwise not be discussed often.
Further, the conversation inherent in family dinnertime leads to higher academic achievement. In fact, research has found that dinnertime conversation expands the vocabulary of young children at a higher rate than does being read to. By engaging in conversation with adults and older siblings, these young learners are exposed to the way more experienced speakers use words and structure sentences. For older children, scheduled mealtime is linked to higher academic marks more so than sports or arts-related activities.
Optimizing Family Dinnertime
To ensure that you are making the most of dinner with the family, there are a few steps you can take starting today:
Mark your calendar
- : Though it may seem silly to schedule dinner, treating it as you would any other appointment creates a sense of importance around it. Each family member will be more inclined to prioritize this time.
Power down the devices: As hard as it may be for the cellphone-dependent teenager in your home to accept, make the dinner table a technology-free zone. Without the beeps, buzzes, and rings of your various devices, you’ll better engage and connect with those around you.
Install soundproof windows: The dog next door’s incessant barking, the roar of a motorcycle, and even a plane flying overhead are all annoyances that serve to distract from family dinnertime. By soundproofing your windows, you’ll be able to eliminate up to 95% of external noise, leaving you tuned in only to the words of your loved ones.