How many times a week does your family sit down to a meal together?
Between after-school activities, long work hours and other demands of our hectic lifestyles, it can be difficult to get everyone together for mealtimes. But did you know that this simple practice can contribute to stronger family bonds, healthier eating habits and other positive outcomes in children?
Benefits of family mealtime
Research over the years continues to show that family meals bolster children's chance of success in life. Children and teens who participate in regular family meals have better grades, healthier eating habits, reduced risk of obesity, are more resilient to life's ups and downs, are better equipped to resist peer pressure and display fewer behavioral problems. For those who don't gather 'round the family dinner table, the outcomes may not be quite so rosy.
According to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, teens who eat fewer than three family meals a week -- compared to those who eat five or more family dinners -- are:
- Twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana
- More than one and a half times more likely to use alcohol
- Twice as likely to expect to try drugs in the future
- One and a half times more likely to report getting grades of C or lower in school
Making mealtime family time
Most research suggests that both parents and children value family mealtime. It offers the opportunity for all family members to be themselves in a safe and loving environment. Below are some tips for getting the most out of family dinners:
- Turn off distractions such as televisions, phones and other electronic devices. Make it a rule that no phone calls are made or answered and that everyone stays at the table until dinner is over. (Plus, meals eaten in front of the TV are less likely to be as healthy as those eaten around a dinner table.)
- Truly engage everyone: ask each person specific questions about their days, discuss current events, plan your next family vacation, and so on.
- Set regular mealtimes and let everyone know when they are expected to be home.
- Have all family members participate in meal planning, shopping and the food preparation.
- Maintain a positive environment at the dinner table.
- Model proper etiquette and table manners.
- Take your time and enjoy a few extra minutes sitting at the table before cleaning up; the point is to enjoy each other's company, not race to the finish!
- Clean up is everyone's job. Have each family member clear his or her own place and help with kitchen clean-up. Older children can help was dishes or put away leftovers.
Be sure to share this eye-opening information with your children and grandchildren.