Why Is It Important to Eat Dinner as a Family?

A family dinner is more about the conversation than about the food. (Photo: ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Last week I wrote about the obstacles we face in getting dinner on the table so everyone in the house can eat a meal together. I also gave you some suggestions for overcoming those obstacles. There’s one last thing I want to address. Why is it so important for everyone to come together once a day to eat anyway?

It’s not about being able to say, “Look at me. I’m super mom (or dad). I can cook a fabulous organic dinner every night and get it on my table.” In fact, what ends up on the plates is only a small part of the importance of eating together.

The larger part is communication — communication between the adults in the house and communication between the adults and the kids. It’s a time when a family, whatever form that family takes, can slow down for a half hour or so and find out what’s going in each others’ lives.

Benefits for kids

There have been many studies on the benefits of the family meal, especially the benefits for children. Here are just a few things that have been discovered about the family meal, in no particular order of importance.

  • Meals are more likely to be healthy and balanced when planned out and eaten together.
  • Teens who rarely have family dinners are three and a half times more likely to have abused prescription drugs or illegal drugs than those who have frequent family dinners.
  • Girls who eat five or more meals with their families are less likely to develop dangerous eating habits such as anorexia or abuse of diet pills.
  • Young children pick up vocabulary and conversation skills around the meal table.
  • Family identity and culture are created and passed down. Family stories and legends are told and shared.
  • Teens who share fewer than five meals a week with their family are more likely to earn C’s or lower on their grades.
  • Teens who share five or more meals with their family each week are more likely to report that they have great relationships with their parents.

Let’s see. Better eating habits, better grades, less likely to abuse drugs, better conversation skills, closer family bonds ... all because you sat down and ate together. Sounds like family mealtime is important.

Benefits for parents

When I was looking for the data on this, I saw a lot about why family meals are better for the children. I didn’t see too much about why family meals are better for the parents. As a mom, I learn so much about my boys when we are all around the dinner table. Their individual personalities come out. I find out what makes them smile. I find out what they are sensitive about.

I believe family mealtime is just as important for my husband and me as it is for my children. We get to know our boys and that helps us figure out how to provide for their individual needs. It also reminds us that we have amazing kids.

One suggestion: If you find your family at the table and there seems to be nothing to talk about, try this. Go around the table and ask everyone (including the adults) to tell you the best thing that happened to them that day. Then ask what the worst thing was. Those questions will be sure to get discussions started and provide valuable insight into what goes on in each person’s day-to-day life.

Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center on Addiction, Time.com – The Magic of the Family Meal

Catch up with this story:

• Part 1: What stands in the way of family dinner?

• Part 2: How to overcome the obstacles.

• Part 3: Why eating a meal together is so important.