Life is hectic. Between shuffling the kids from extracurricular activities, getting your work done, and taking care of life’s many chores it is easy to let family dinner time fall by the wayside — but that is exactly why it is so important.
In fact, research shows family dinners are among the most important things you can do as a family. Children who eat family dinners do better in school, eat healthier, and make better life choices; and parents who have family dinners report lower levels of stress, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
Make it a priority
Of course it is ok to sometimes skip the family dinner, but try to make it a priority. Next time you are thinking about “just going through the drive-thru,” think about this:
1.) It is good for yours, and your child’s, waistline — a study by the Obesity Prevention Program at Harvard Medical School found that children ages 9 to 14 who ate dinner with their families ate more fruits and vegetables and consumed less soda and fried foods. Their diets were also found to be more complete with essential nutrients. Not to mention a homemade meal packs more nutritional punch than the fast food, or pre-packaged version; and you control the portions.
2.) Family meals are good for your child’s mental health — children who eat with their families are less likely to get depressed, consider suicide, or develop an eating disorder. They are also more likely to feel their parents are proud of them, and delay sex, according to a study by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. It reinforces the child-parent connection, and grows that bond.
3.) Your kids are less likely to abuse drugs — Having meal time together at least five times a week leads to lower instances of drug and alcohol abuse, according to a CASA report. The study found that teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs and try illegal drugs other than marijuana.
4.) Your kids will do better in school — Teens who have family dinners regularly report higher grades. The time at the table allows children to have face-time with adults to ask questions, and also allows children to pick up on vocabulary and learn more about world events.
5.) It is a time to relax — sitting down for a meal and being in the moment as a family can be a huge stress reliever. It is a time for adults to forget about the craziness of the day and be one with their family. It is a good reminder of what really matters in your life.
6.)It is cheaper — a family dinner at home can cost half as much as eating out, and you usually have leftovers. While eating out can also be family time, it is frequently filled with more distractions making conversation a little more difficult.
Making family dinners more frequent in your home is a small change that can have a big impact. It is important to remember to also keep the TV off to minimize outside distraction and allow more conversation. Check out the Family Dinner Project for conversation starters, allow your child or teen to have a say in the meal, and put on a little dinner music to make the experience something everyone looks forward to.
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.