Make Family Dinner a Priority
Family dinner and school success don’t seem to go together, at least not on the surface. But let me share a short story. At the school where I use to teach, the valedictorian one year was asked what the secret was to his success. His reply was incredibly insightful and has stuck with me for all these years. He said, “We very often had family dinner during which we would discuss the news of the day and share our opinions.”
For many, family dinner has been lost in their overscheduled lives. Extracurricular activities, work, and the school can make it hard to find time to eat together, and some families go weeks or days without sitting down and having a meal together. We’ve all been there. Your day is running longer than it should. You’re too tired to cook, your spouse is late, you finally get the meal on the table, and you all spend about five minutes together before running off to other things.
This can make it feel pointless to spend the time cooking the meal and trying to have family dinner. We question all of the work we put into this and wonder if it’s worth it. However, these family dinners are extremely important and should be a part of your daily requirements. Family dinners are worth it.
Researchers have discovered that families who have a meal together regularly, whether dinner, breakfast, or lunch, reap several benefits. A balanced and healthy meal is important for your child, but it is also important to take the time to share a meal. Your mealtime is way more than just the food you are eating. It is about providing an atmosphere of conversation, tradition, love, and connection.
For the smallest members of your family, sharing a meal with their parents can do some awesome things for them. First, it will promote their language skills as you talk with everybody around the table. It also boosts their dexterity and patience. It will also help them to develop their social skills that include taking turns and manners.
Have you ever had to sit through a meal with children, or some adults for that matter, who can’t make conversation? Meaningful conversation is a skill your children have to learn and family dinners can help teach this skill. Spending time together without distractions gives you a chance to ask about each other’s day, talk about what is going on, get opinions about important topics, and to share how they feel. Oftentimes, family dinners are the best way to hear about what is going on in your child’s life.
Multiple studies find that children who regularly took part in family meals were less likely to experience depression and less likely to end up getting hooked on drugs.
At Columbia University, their National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has done several studies on how important family meals are. In the study Family Meals and Child Academic Behavioral Outcome, they found that children who had family meals less than three times each week were twice as likely to make Cs or worse. Children who have family meals five to seven times each week did a lot better, reporting mainly Bs and As (Miller et al., 2012).
Family life has become increasingly busy. Most families will have school, work, and other activities scheduled each day. Time won’t magically come to a stop at five in the evening so that families can stop and have a meal together. Some families say they don’t have two free hours to make and eat dinner, but they find two hours to stare at their phone.
Family dinners give you the chance to stop all of the other activities and simply connect for a moment. Research has also found that when a family eats their meals together, they develop a stronger bond with each other. Everybody leads a disconnected life at school and work, and this time gives you all a chance to reconnect. You will also find that you can keep better tabs on what is going on in your child’s life.
Family dinners could be the only time you have where your entire family is together. Use this chance to connect with your children face to face. Turn off all distractions, put the phones away, and focus on one another.
Families that eat their meals together also tend to make better food choices. There was one study from Stanford University found that children who had family dinners were less likely to eat saturated fats and fried food, and sought out foods like vegetables and fruits.
The American Society for Nutrition found that young children who had meals with their families had lower body mass index (BMI) levels than children who didn’t. This is likely because home-cooked meals tend to be healthier than restaurant meals, which come with a higher calorie count and larger portions.
The best thing about family dinners is that it will become ingrained in your family’s tradition if you start this early on. While it may seem tough to ensure family meals are spent together, it is very beneficial. Remember that every dinner you have at a table with your family brings your family closer together and helps your child succeed in school and life.
About the author
Joshua Sneideman is the VP of Learning Blade®, an online STEM and Computer Science Career awareness program utilized around the country to improve students understanding of the career pathways in STEM in grades 5-9. Learning Blade has STEM4Parent lessons that includes dinner time conversation starters. Josh is a former Albert Einstein Distinguished Education Fellow and author of numerous STEM education books including his latest release Animal Hugs.