September is Family Meals Month and it's never been a better time to make family meals a priority. After all, we are all stuck at home together, right?
Growing up my family did a pretty great job of prioritizing family mealtime. When dinner was ready, the TV went off, a ringing phone was left ignored, and we all sat together to enjoy a homemade meal. Naturally, as a kid I often groaned when it came time to turn off the screen. But looking back, I think this predictable daily ritual gave me a sense of comfort and consistency that I want to share with my own family now.
The surprising benefits of family meals
There is also a great deal of research to support the benefits of eating dinner as a family. It's not surprising that eating together as a family helps build relationships between family members. Yet, I was surprised to hear that family dinners can also support kids' mental health and protect against teenage substance use.
Check out some of the awesome benefits of family meals and tips for making your family dinners successful and fun!
Support healthy eating and portion control
When grown-ups cook with fresh ingredients at home, they know exactly which ingredients are going into their kid's meal (and how much of them!). Family dinners also give grown-ups a chance to model healthy eating and teach kids about proper portion control. In fact, a 2018 study in the Obesity Reviews Journal found a relationship between frequent family meals and better nutritional health among kids.
Tip: Consider asking your kids to help you make dinner! Cooking with your kids has some real educational benefits. For example, cooking with kids can boost self-esteem and foster healthy eating habits.
Our lives can get so busy. It's nice to stop everything and take the time to connect with our family. Mealtime is a great opportunity to ask each other about his or day, make plans, or joke around together. It's also a great time to model family traditions or teach values (e.g., praying before a meal, using table manners, etc).
Tip: Keep mealtime conversation positive and save more serious or discipline-related topics for another time.
Protect against substance use
Family dinners can reduce kids' likelihood of trying illegal substances. A study conducted by the National Center on Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (5 or more per week), teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than 3 per week) are four times as likely to smoke, two and a half times more likely to use marijuana and more than twice as likely to use alcohol.
How incredible that something as sweet as eating dinner as a family can have such long-lasting benefits!
Tip: To keep family meals intimate and free of distractions, consider making this a screen- and phone-free time for your family.
Support mental health and well-being
So many children crave undivided attention from their parents. Mealtime is a great chance for grown-ups to focus on their kids, observe their moods, and learn about what is going on in their lives. And kids benefit from this special time with their family. Researchers have found a positive relationship between frequent family meals and increased self-esteem and school success.
Tip: Consider taking turns sharing two of the BEST things that happened in your day as well as one of the HARDEST parts of your day.
Teach social skills and responsible behaviors
During family meals, kids can practice their social skills, like asking questions, taking turns talking, and sharing food (i.e. choosing to split the last piece of toast). Family mealtime also allows very young kids to practice their emerging fine motor and language skills. Finally, meal time can help reinforce responsible behaviors, like helping out with dinnertime chores. Such involvement can boost kids' self-esteem and help them feel like valuable members of the family.
Tip: Consider letting kids choose a way to help out during meal time. For example, one child can set the table, one can dish up the meal, and one can be in charge of clearing the dishes.
We'd love to hear from you. What do YOU love most about family dinners? Send us your thoughts at [email protected]!
Try one of our popular dishes for your next family meal!
- Easy Honey Garlic Chicken Thighs
- Mac and Cheese Shell Casserole with Ham and Broccoli
- The Best Mini Egg Bites with Ham & Cheese
- Old Fashioned Sloppy Joes