Growing up, we always had dinners together. My parents ran a business from home, so they didn’t have to commute anywhere, they were always around home.
The TV was off, and of course, there was no such thing as a device.
Dinner time is often the one time in the day where the whole family is there and can share a conversation. I have great memories about the giggles we had at dinner. And so often, the encylopedia would be pulled off the book case to settle an argument.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. I also have memories of having to sit at the table for hours on my own because I wouldn’t finish my dinner!
The evidence is staggering in support of family meal times. I am going to make some pretty big claims in this article, so I am going to pop some references at the bottom if anyone wants to fact check me.
Children who eat dinner together are twice as likely to get the right amount of fruit and vegetables every day, compared to those who don’t.
There was a study with more than 15,000 children (that’s quite a big study!), between the ages of 9 and 14. Those who ate dinner together ‘most days’ were 50% more likely to eat 5 serves of fruit and vegetables every day. They were also a third less likely to eat fried food away from home (like takeaway), and a quarter less likely to drink soft drinks. The more often the kids ate meals together with their parents, the higher their intake of vitamins and minerals (Gillman et al., 2000).
Children who eat dinner together have better vocabulary and performance at school
How much cheaper is this than paying for a tutor!
Studies show not only that children who eat together as a family will spend more time reading for pleasure and doing homework, but this translates to better school performance.
A study of 5000 teenagers in the US found that the less often teenagers eat together as a family, the lower their grades at school. This link was particularly strong for the teenage girls. The researchers also found there was more to this association than just connectedness with their families. It also has to do with the conversation around the dinner table, and learning skills from their parents (Eisenberg, Olson, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, & Bearinger, 2004).
Children who eat dinner together have less asthma.
Yes, you read that correctly.
As I said, there are some big claims in this post. This one even surprised me!
86 families were involved in a study that looked at the relationship between family rituals (such as shared meal times) and asthma. Families that adhered to routines and rituals, had children with less anxiety. This then translated to lower levels of asthma, due to the lessened anxiety. Children with anxiety have higher rates of asthma, and asthma can make anxiety worse (Markson & Fiese, 2012).
Children who eat dinner together have better social skills
Children who eat dinner together have higher levels of fitness
Children who eat dinner together drink lower levels of soft drinks
Children who eat dinner together feel better about themselves and have better long term physical and mental health
These were the findings of a Canadian study that looked at children all the way from 5 months to 10 years old. These researchers felt so compelled by their findings that they recommended governments should run public health campaigns to encourage the return of the family meal (Harbec & Pagani, 2018)
I appreciate that it probably isn’t feasible for most families to eat dinner together every day, but see if there are a few days in the week where this is possible. Or perhaps parents can adjust their schedules so that breakfast can be eaten together as a family.
The key in all this research though is that parents need to be warm and engaged in the family mealtimes, not stressed and controlling.
Eating dinner together can be a beneficial and positive family experience and you might even be entertained by it, when they can be coaxed into sharing their playground stories with you!
Eisenberg, M. E., Olson, R. E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Bearinger, L. H. (2004). Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpedi.158.8.792
Gillman, M. W., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Frazier, A. L., Rockett, H. R. H., Camargo, J., Field, A. E., … Colditz, G. A. (2000). Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Archives of Family Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1001/archfami.9.3.235
Harbec, M. J., & Pagani, L. S. (2018). Associations between early family meal environment quality and later well-being in school-age children. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. https://doi.org/10.1097/DBP.0000000000000520
Markson, S., & Fiese, B. H. (2012). Family Rituals as a Protective Factor for Children With Asthma. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/25.7.471