I am passionate about the importance of family dinners – of meeting together every night of the week as a rule, not the exception (though they don’t often look like the one pictured…). As our kids were growing up, we scheduled their activities (and ours) around our dinners. As they got older and some activities were inevitably scheduled during the traditional dinner hour (around 6:00pm), we’d eat early or later, depending on when the activity ended.
The only time we don’t eat at a table is on Saturdays when we eat pizza and watch a classic movie (for a number of years we got every old musical we could find at our library, then we moved on to westerns, classics we loved, and even film noir when the kids were older). But that’s a fun family time, too. Are we crazy to emphasize this and to think it more than just a time to put food into our mouths? I don’t think so.
After a bit of research I found six life-changing reasons to make family dinner a priority.
Children who eat frequently (at least 5 times a week) with their families will:
- Be less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. According to a September 2011 study, children who ate meals less than 3 times a week were twice as likely to use tobacco, and almost four times more likelier to use tobacco and say that they expect to use drugs in the future. This article states that 90% of addicted Americans started smoking, drinking or using drugs before age 18! Staying involved, especially in the teen years, is key to raising healthy, substance-free kids- and having a family meal is one of the simplest ways to make sure that happens.
- Have better relationships their parents and siblings. Sharing thoughts, opinions, and laughter regularly at the table imparts family values and strengthens family ties. Children realize they have a voice, a place, and are important.
- Do better in school.Talking with your children- regardless of what your education or financial situation – has been shown to expand the reading ability and vocabulary of children. Wow.
- Eat healthier. Studies have linked eating family meals to the higher intake of fruits, vegetables, protein, and calcium, as well as a healthy weight. Which makes sense- it’s a lot easier to mindlessly eat alone with a TV than when engaged with our families.
- Learn table etiquette. Manners are most definitely not a thing of the past. Our children will need table manners in many adult situations (remember meeting your in-laws or eating with co-workers?) and it’s our job as parents to make sure they have the skills they need to be successful in life- and that includes at the table.
- Be happier. Seriously? Surprisingly, good self-esteem and a positive outlook on life and the future are all linked to that time-honored, easily accomplished family activity that we have taken for granted: