Did you know that having dinner together as a family can improve your child’s quality of life? Research shows that these benefits continue from childhood well into adulthood.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not only an epidemiological crisis but a psychological one too, provoking anxiety, stress, and sadness. Family dinners will benefit your child’s mental, emotional, social, and physical well-being, but likely your well-being as a parent too. Here are 4 reasons why family meals are so developmentally important:
Creates a positive mindset
Family meals are correlated with significantly lower levels of depression in adolescents. The statistics show us that an increase in frequency of family meals leads to a decrease in depressive symptoms. Instead of sitting alone, holding their feelings inside, children have a forum to air anything troubling them. Consistency provides a sense of security.
Parental Pointers: Keep a set time daily in a range that works for your family. Remember the more family meals together the better! Engage your kids by asking them to set and clear the table. They might even be keen to help pick and prepare what they’d like to eat! In general, kids tend to be more engaged at the table if they’re involved in the process ahead of time.
Sitting down and eating together as a family provides an emotionally safe place for children and teens to learn the art of communication. Here, they can talk about their day and issues that have come up. They can then take the skills they learn at the dinner table and apply them to a number of settings, including conversations with teachers and friends. Better communication creates better relationships.
Parental Pointers: Open ended questions like ‘How was your day?’ tend to get vague responses like, ‘fine’. Try taking turns around the table, letting each person tell what their ‘rose (most positive experience) and thorn (most negative experience)’ was from their day. Here’s another activity that my brother’s family has used, and it often helps get the conversation started by sparking curiosity. Once every family member is seated at the table, each person shares one thing from their day that they’re grateful for. There were lots of giggles when they first started doing this activity, but it has slowly become a nightly tradition.
Healthier food choices
Sitting down with your children for dinner allows you to role model healthy food choices and portion sizes. It also allows you to observe your child’s eating patterns. Children end up eating from a wider variety of food groups and consuming fewer soft drinks. Overall, research tells us that there are lower rates of disordered eating amongst children who sit down to a healthy, family dinner.
Parental Pointers: Healthy doesn’t mean that everything has to be homemade from scratch (Heck no! Who has time for that?) Simply grabbing a meal from the freezer and adding a bagged salad could be a convenient balanced option. As a rule of thumb, talking about food in black and white terms tends to be confusing for kids. Food does not have to be ‘good and bad’, especially when it’s eaten in moderation. Snacks like chips and chocolates can be described as ‘fun food’ rather than ‘junk food’ which tends to be a more balanced message for children.
Improved physical fitness
Children who grow up in homes with regular family dinners have been found to participate in higher levels of physical fitness and activity. This may be partially linked to the higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy that result from eating with the fam.
Parental Pointers: Even going for a short walk together, around the block after dinner can help stretch out those cobwebs from being in quarantine and in online school all day. Let kids choose which route to take, only rule is you can’t choose the same route twice! Play eye spy as you go, or even work a simple scavenger hunt into it e.g First one to find a pinecone is the ‘Star of the Walk’!
Overall, regular family meals make for happier, healthier, and more confident kids!
During the pandemic, setting aside together time with your children is important because it sends the message that they’re a priority. It helps them feel valued, understood, and cared for. Older children and teenagers have different developmental needs than adults and therefore social distancing has a different emotional impact on them than it does us. They’re at a stage where social connections and separation from parents is developmentally healthy. Because of covid-19, many of these social interactions have changed or been taken away from them. For children of all ages, family time provides a healthy opportunity for them to talk about how they’re feeling and for you to observe and listen for changes in their mood, engagement level, clothing, friends, and grades.
Of course, these benefits flow both ways! There are benefits for parents too. Studies suggest that feasting together creates bondedness. These same studies even say that social eating is part of human evolution that came about as a mechanism for enabling the process of social bonding. Eating with other humans more frequently is tied to feeling happier, trusting others, having more friendships, and being more content with life overall. While we can’t wine and dine with our friends during quarantine, we can feast with our household tribe.