By Greg Fleischaker, author of a casual food and cooking blog at http://dinnertimetv.com
A third of U.S. families eat dinner together — at the table, seven nights a week. This finding comes from the 2013 Welch’s Kitchen Table Report. “It might feel like the traditional ideal of a family gathered for dinner is only a memory of a bygone era and that today’s families aren’t connected to each other as they are busy running around, texting, and watching TV,” said Sarah-Jane Bedwell, a registered dietitian and Welch’s Health and Nutrition Advisory Panel member.
“The truth is parents are making quality time a priority and are using mealtime to share a moment with their children…. In my experience, families who eat together are happier, healthier, and stronger.” It’s promising news that the benefits of eating dinner with the family are now being recognized. There are certainly plenty of studies to back up the claims that sharing a meal is beneficial to home-life.
Here are some of the top benefits of eating dinner as a family:
It’s good for your physical health.
University of Minnesota researchers found that eating family meals together during adolescence led to the adoption of positive eating habits later in life. These children grew to consume more fruit, vegetables, and nutrients as adults. They were less likely to drink soda or eat unhealthy snack foods.
An even larger study of 8,677 girls and 7,525 boys was conducted by Matthew W. Gillman MD at Harvard in 2000. Gillman and colleagues found that 9-to-14-year-olds who ate with their families ate more fruits, more vegetables, less fried food, less soda, less saturated and trans-fats, lower Glycemic loads, more fiber, and more micronutrients.
Sarah Anderson at Ohio State University reported that pre-school aged children who ate dinner with the family more than 5 times per week, got at least 10.5 hours of sleep a night, and watched less than 2 hours of TV on weekdays had a 14.3 percent chance of becoming an obese adult, compared to the 24.5 percent chance that other 4-year-old children faced.
It’s good for your emotional health.
“More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction,” according to McGill Professor Frank Elgar. ”From having no dinners together to eating together 7 nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health.”
In her research, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer PHD from the Minnesota School of Public Health found that kids who eat with their families are less likely to become depressed, consider suicide, and develop an eating disorder. “If a child eats with his or her parents on a regular basis, problems will be identified earlier on,” she explained to CNN.
The benefits aren’t just for kids, however. A 2008 study of IBM employees conducted by Brigham Young University revealed that enjoying a meal with the family helped working moms reduce tension and strain from long hours at the office.
It’s good for your future.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, family dinners at least 5 times per week are associated with a lower chance of your teen smoking, drinking or abusing drugs. In fact, teens that have fewer than three family dinners a week are: 3.5x more likely to have abused drugs, 2.5x more likely to have smoked cigarettes, and 1.5x more likely to have tried alcohol. “The parental engagement fostered at the dinner table can be a simple, effective tool to help prevent [substance abuse],” summarized researcher Elizabeth Planet. Furthermore, the study showed that only 9 percent of teens who eat with their families get C’s or lower on their report cards, compared to 20% of teens who dine with their parents less than 3 times a week.
Of course, simply sitting at the same table isn’t enough to maximize the benefits of dinner with the family. To see results, there needs to be positive interaction. Parents can take this time to foster improvement in every area of a child’s life by asking the right questions and encouraging the child to participate in healthy discussion – whether it’s about a proud moment, something learned at school, or an area of difficulty.
The verdict is clear. So let’s do our best to rearrange our chaotic schedules and make time for family, starting this week.