The Importance of Family Dinners

The pace of modern life can easily leave even the most well-intentioned families at a loss as to how to keep up with all the demands. Some of these demands are better labeled "want-to's" rather than real "have-to's," and it can sometimes be a challenge telling the two apart. One of those non-optional needs in life is that of eating. But there are few life-musts with so many options attached. We all need to eat, and most of us enjoy it. What's surprising to many is that not only what we eat, but the setting we eat in has very definite effects on our physical and mental/emotional health, and possibly more importantly, the well-being of our children.

History has always included tales of getting food, preparing it, and enjoying it together with family and close friends. Unfortunately, families eating dinner together is quickly becoming a lost art for millions around the globe. Is this really a reason for concern? Is the importance of family dinners overstated?

In a word, no! Studies on the benefits of having a family dinner began to appear a decade or so ago. Previously, it was more of a non-issue. "Of course dinner will be served tonight. At 6:00 pm sharp. Like every other night. Why the question?" With each new study examining some facet of families eating together, evidence mounts proving that the family dinner table is vital for keeping families close and healthy. Let's examine a few of the reasons why this is.

A study conducted on how young children's activities affected their lives found that with children aged 3 to 12, spending more time together eating meals at home led to higher achievement scores and less behavior problems. Family dinners trumped school time, art, church, studying, and sports. Very significant results, indeed. (How American Children Spend Their Time. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 295-308)

Families talking together at mealtimes has been connected to better vocabulary development in children. (Beals & Tabor, 1996; Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Snow, 1991)

A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association which was carried out by the University of Minnesota showed that children in families who regularly had meals together had a much more nutritious diet, including more fruits and vegetables and less unhealthy foods and snacks. Similarly, another study showed that families who ate dinner together most of the time had higher amounts of important nutrients like calcium, fiber, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E, with less fat in their diets.

Other studies link families eating dinner together with lower rates of children becoming overweight, lowered risk of alcohol and drug abuse and other risky behaviors in teens, better psychological adjustment, and more academic success.

Think teens don't really care about eating meals with their families? Studies show that just the opposite is true. Teens long for, enjoy, and know the benefits of regularly sharing meals at the family dinner table.

There's no question about the importance of family dinners. They help ensure a happy and healthy family who stays close even later in life. As the saying goes, the family who plays  eats together, stays together. Happy eating!