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The Importance of Sitting Down Together for Family Meals

by Dr. Susan Canizares | December 6, 2017 | Child Development | Ideas

During the holidays, there are often many extended family meals and get-togethers. Once the holidays are over, however, we often go back to our busy, everyday lives. School, work, homework, and after-school practices and activities take over, while family meals and time spent together often take a back seat to quick, on-the-go meals in the car or in front of the TV. There are so many benefits to eating dinner as a family, even if it is only a few times a week.

Eating family meals on a regular basis can encourage healthy eating habits. In fact, numerous studies show that children who eat at least three family meals per week are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

Since you control the meals at home, you control the food and the portion sizes. Meals at most restaurants are full of calories and offer much larger portions than one person should be eating. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat vegetables instead of fried foods, like French fries. There is also a higher likelihood of experimenting with new and different foods.

Although the opportunity to eat healthier meals is a positive outcome of family meals, the food being served is not necessarily the most important part of the meal. These meals are a perfect chance to have conversations with your child, which can increase their vocabulary. Researchers have even found that these dinnertime conversations expose children to an even larger number of spicy, rich (less common) words than being read to every night.

We live such busy lives and finding the time to schedule meals around the dinner table can be a daunting task. However, there are ways to make this important experience a priority. If five days a week is not possible, start with two to three days and build from there. Use the crockpot to cook meals while you’re at work. Take some extra time on the weekend to make and freeze some meals so that all you need to do is thaw it and it’s ready to go. Whenever possible, involve your children in the preparation of the food or give them a chore, such as setting the table.

Finally, the most important part of having meals together as a family is to enjoy each other’s company. Family meals should be a time for open, positive communication. Encourage your child to talk about her day and share her experiences. If your child has a difficult time thinking of something to share, ask questions to get them talking. Conversation starters include:

  • What are the four most interesting things about you?
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Why?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • If we could go anywhere on vacation, where would you like to go?
  • Did you help anyone today? Did anyone help you?
  • What were the best and worst things about school today?

Leave serious or negative conversations for a different time. Plus, put all the phones in another room so that you aren’t tempted with the distraction, and turn off the television!

No matter what the food is or where the conversation goes, the benefits of eating meals as a family are many. Enjoy your time together!