Family meals nourish more than the bodies of those who consume them. In fact, ask according to new research, family meals offer surprising benefits.
For instance, it has been found that children who eat meals with their parents on a regular basis are at lower risk for developing addictive behaviors such as smoking and drug and alcohol use. Family meals also appear to help prevent the development of eating disorders in teenagers. Interestingly, eating family meals also is correlated with an improvement in children’s eating habits: children who have regular meals with their parents tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk food. This improvement may be a result of the parental model at the table or it might be or that family meals tend to be more nutritious than meals eaten alone.
A fascinating study indicates that the power of a family meal is so strong, that the positive benefits continue to exist even when family mealtime consists of sitting in front of the TV together. Since numerous studies have previously linked television viewing to unhealthy eating habits, researchers at the University of Minnesota were surprised to find that families who watched TV during dinner continued to benefit from eating together.
Of course, the ideal family meal is one in which parents and children interact with each other. Especially in today’s rushed and hectic environment, it can be difficult for parents and children to have meaningful communication. Family meals are a great opportunity for catching up, having stimulating conversation, exploring ideas and values, passing down family stories, and dealing with family issues. It is also a time when parents can observe changes in their children and track development and growth.
So if family meals are so wonderful, why do many families fail to eat together? Late work hours and busy extracurricular schedules can make getting all family members together at the same time very challenging. But dinner isn’t the only opportunity for a shared meal. Some families may find that breakfast is a better option. For exceptionally busy families, having one or two family meals a week might be better than nothing at all.
The important thing to remember is that being together as a family has benefits that can last far beyond childhood. The sense of stability and connectedness that shared meals create, give children an emotional advantage they’ll take with them into adulthood. And that is something probably worth making time for.