As our lives get busier and busier, family mealtime is on the decrease. Studies have shown that children who eat meals with their families are socially, emotionally and physically healthier.
Sharing a meal together provides families the time to connect and learn what is happening in each other’s lives. It offers an opportunity for parents to share their values and discover what is important to their children.
According to the National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse from Columbia University, there are many positive outcomes for children and teens who partake in family meals on a regular basis. Compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are:
Likelier to get better grades in school.
At 70 per cent lower risk for substance abuse.
Half as likely to try cigarettes.
Half as likely to be daily cigarette smokers.
Half as likely to try marijuana.
One-third less likely to try alcohol.
Half as likely to get drunk monthly.
Less likely to have friends who drink alcohol and use marijuana.
Almost 40 per cent likelier to say they won’t ever use drugs.
Family mealtime can help children develop socialization and communication skills by listening to others and contributing to the conversation. Eating together can foster a sense of security and belonging which is vitally important to children.
Family mealtime is a perfect occasion for children to learn how to set the table, prepare food and clean the dishes. Parents are able to role model healthy eating habits and table manners during family meals. Children who eat together with their parents are more willing to try new foods and overall have a healthier diet. According to Project EAT, from the University of Minnesota, children consume more calcium, iron, fibre and vitamins B6, B12, C and E when they eat during family meals.
Keep meals simple. It’s more important to spend time together than to dine on extravagant meals that take a long time to prepare. To encourage conversation, turn off the television and let the answering machine pick up messages. It’s important to keep the mealtime pleasant so children will want to spend time eating with their families.
– Mary Caskey is a health and nutrition educator with
University of Minnesota Extension