Eating dinner together will change your child’s life. (Hint: It’s not about the food.)
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve learned a lot of food-related life lessons at the kitchen table. Wait your turn. Only take what you can eat. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Express gratitude.
On a less food-related note, eating together also taught me how to keep up with the banter of movie quotes and quips between my siblings. Dad helped us to appreciate good storytelling and how to estimate the height of a cereal box. Mom taught us to slow down and breathe deeply, at least once a day.
At face value, these things might not seem overtly remarkable or life-changing to learn.You might be thinking, “That’s fine and well for you, but it just doesn’t work in my family. Besides, what’s the big deal? Would missing out on any of this really affect my child?”
Let me assure you, this is not just a matter of table manners or meal etiquette. What if I told you that eating meals as a family impacts your child’s future, including their social, mental, physical, and academic development? Allow me to explain.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health discovered a correlation between the frequency of family meals and female adolescent substance abuse. As the frequency of family meals increased, the use of substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana decreased.
Another study reported similar findings regarding at-risk behaviors among both males and females. This evidence strengthens the claim that less family meals indicate more prevalence of drug and alcohol use, violence, depression, and other harmful behaviors among adolescents.
So yes, it is a big deal. Choosing to regularly eat meals together as a family will help protect your children against risky and detrimental behavior.
Why is this the case? What does family dinner have to do with happy and healthy children? One of the studies mentioned above sheds light on this question. Not only was a lack of family meals connected with at-risk behavior, but a habit of regular family meals was connected with increased parental involvement, healthy boundaries, family support, good adult role models, academic motivation, self-esteem, and other benefits. (What a mouthful!) Each of these indicates a positive overall home environment.
Again, it’s not about the food. It’s about the culture your family creates, the relationship your family builds, and the connection your family fosters by sharing meals together. Your child needs this stable, loving, involved family environment in order to truly thrive.
Is the lack of shared family meals really an issue today? For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that food expenditures away from home exceeded those for food at home. That was in 2010. This trend has continued through 2021. The more money we spend on meals away from home, the less likely we are to be eating with our family. Because family meals are essential to creating and maintaining the family environment, this doesn’t bode well for our children.
As a parent, you may be reading this and thinking, “Oh no—not another thing to add to my overfull parenting plate!” (Food pun intended.) You might think you’re simply too busy or it’s too inconvenient to feasibly eat meals together as a family.
If you think this way, I plead with you to think again.
Are you really too busy to create priceless opportunities to connect with your children?
Is it really less convenient to eat together than it is to help your child navigate depression, addiction, or aggressive behavior?
Motivational speaker Marcus Taylor said it well: “You must suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret. Being fit is hard. Being overweight is hard. Choose your hard!”
As a child, I could not choose whether my family shared meals. Your child cannot choose this either. As the parent, this is your choice. Prioritizing family meals will be hard. Dealing with the long-term developmental and relationship consequences of not having family meals will be hard. “Choose your hard.”
Whether you already make time for multiple family meals each week or if you can’t remember the last time you sat down to dinner together, you can take a step towards improvingyour family culture, relationships, and connections by making family mealtimes a priority. If this is new to you, start by picking one meal each week for everyone to share at home together. Choose to be intentional about your child’s future. “Choose your hard.”
Erin Poore is a Minnesota girl. She is currently studying Marriage and Family Studies and Apparel Design at Brigham Young University-Idaho, and wishing she had unlimited elective credits to pursue everything else she finds engaging. She loves planned spontaneity and adventuring outdoors, treasures time with her family, and enjoys every opportunity to be creative, whether that’s dancing, writing, playing music, or inventing the next analogy or pun to share with alternately awed or cringing friends.