Families that eat together; thrive together
Author: Staff Writer
We all crave connection
Sitting down to family meals may seem like a drag when compared to picking up fast food at the drive through but the benefits of eating together far outweigh the cons and with careful planning, they can be just as convenient while being much healthier for the minds and bodies of all family members.
Informal therapy sessions
With all the benefits that come from daily talk therapy, research has shown that children who regularly eat with their family are less likely to smoke tobacco or marijuana. They are also less prone to depression and tend to earn better marks at school. But the benefits of family dinners are extended to adults as well.
Eating together gives family members regular face time with one another allowing them to be better able to judge emotional states. This gives family members a chance to support one another when something is worrying or upsetting them. This means that each family member can feel supported and the dinner table can become a space for sharing and asking for help and support when needed.
The dinner table can also become a space for self-improvement as family members can encourage and even compete with one another to achieve a goal or engage in a new activity or hobby.
Research has also shown that watching less television and having less screen time every day can contribute positively to mental health. Having regular family dinners around the dining table should mean that electronic devices are banned for the duration. The only exception is the radio or music system as music can help improve your mood.
The dinner table as classroom
Family dinners can be a very valuable way of teaching children important life skills such as table manners and conversation skills. Children begin learning social skills almost from the moment they are born as they watch their parents and so dinner with the family can be a crucial part of their education in this regard.
Children who participate in every aspect of the meal, from preparation to cleaning up afterwards, have an additional advantage in learning life skills like cooking and cleaning up after themselves. These are skills they will need later in life and if they become second nature at an early age it’ll be easier for them than picking them up when they are older.
The skills that adults can learn at the dinner table are invaluable as well. Learning to make conversation is as important for those beyond their teenage years as it is for children. Conversation and networking skills often need to be exercised around a table, be it the dinner table or the conference table. Learning to eat and be charming is an important skill for anyone in the corporate world where work lunches are integral to deal-making.
Home-made is healthy
Dinners made and eaten at home tend to include more vegetables and less fat and sugar than those purchased at fast food restaurants. Research shows that children who eat home-made meals have a more normal body weight than their peers who don’t. Children – and adults – who eat home-made meals may also learn to love vegetables simply due to the higher percentage of vegetables in home-made meals.
The meals made in the kitchen tend to be more nutritious than bought meals as they are freshly prepared. Nutritious meals made at home and eaten around the dinner table will also tend to be eaten slower than fast foods because the engaging conversation around the table will force family members to put down their forks and contribute. Eating slowly gives your stomach a chance to register that it is full and can help to prevent overeating.
Families that eat around the table also give themselves an opportunity to plan ahead and to schedule their weekends. Making plans to spend time together over the weekend, combined with a healthy diet, can mean families will enjoy exercising together. Whether this means going to the pool, going on a hike, or even taking a walk as a family.
Family dinner tips
Research has shown that the benefits of eating dinner as a family increase with the frequency of family dinners; so the more often your family eats together, the greater the benefits. If your family does not currently eat together, or you’d like to eat together more often, try these tips to make family dinners more frequent and enjoyable:
Get everyone involved. Whether your family consists of just you and a partner, or a host of extended family, getting every hand on deck can make the process of food preparation shorter and more fun. Get younger children to lay the table; older children to mix; teenagers to chop; and have someone on sink duty washing dishes or packing the dishwasher. This makes cleaning up faster too.
Schedule it in. From the youngest family member to the oldest, everyone has a busy life and fitting in dinners together can be a challenge. Communication is key here. Schedule dinner time by putting a week planner on your fridge every week. Plan dinners around the times when everyone will be home but try to keep dinners at the same time every day.
Set a minimum time. Taking longer to eat is as important as having a good amount of time chatting with the family. Make sure your family spends at least half an hour around the table most nights of the week to get the greatest benefits from your family dinners. If your family tends to gobble their food down, try serving less appetising foods first and separate from the main meal: like vegetables followed by the protein portion of the meal.
Disconnect. Connecting with family is imperative so ban all digital devices around the table and switch off the television. If someone breaks this rule they can suffer a penalty such as having to clear up by themselves or having to take the rubbish out.