Family Development: How Eating Meals as a Family Can Benefit Everyone

Being a parent is a full-time job in itself.

There’s the school run, doctors’ appointments, helping kids with homework and driving them to after school sports, all on top of part time or full-time work, endless housework and annoying life admin- phew!

With all this going on, it’s no wonder getting dinner on the table every night can be a massive challenge, let alone getting the whole family to eat together.

Though it can be difficult, eating dinner together as a family can have some serious emotional and physical benefits for kids and adults alike.

Harvard’s Project Zero Family Dinner Project states that kids who eat dinner with their family have higher self-esteem, are more resilient and do better at school. In addition, family meals are linked to lower rates of depression and eating disorders in children.

Let's run through these benefits as well as some tips on how to make eating together as a family a little less stressful.

Strengthens bonds
Families that eat meals together often find that they grow closer to one another as a result.

Shared mealtimes give family members the chance to talk about their day, helping everyone know what’s happening with each member outside of the home.

This in turn encourages further discussion later on as loved ones ask follow up questions like “how was your spelling test yesterday?” or “did you have fun on your excursion today?”

This naturally creates a sense of closeness, and these strengthened bonds help kids feel happy and safe knowing their loved ones are always there to listen and support them.

Better nutrition
We all know that eating at home is way healthier than eating out or grabbing takeaway. It also gives kids the opportunity to get involved the kitchen and teach them about nutrition.

Helping prepare a family meal can help kids get familiar with different vegetables and other kinds of ingredients and teaches them exactly what work is involved in getting dinner on the table.

Teaches responsibility
Before families can eat together, the mean needs to be prepared!

Getting kids involved with meal prep, setting the table and helping with the clean-up are great ways to teach them responsibility early. Getting a meal ready is another way bonds can be strengthened as it provides more opportunities for the family to be together.

Monitor moods
The more time families spend in each other’s company, the better everyone will get at picking up when someone might not be ok.

Detecting subtle changes in your child’s mood lets you jump on potential issues early. The more time you spend together, the more comfortable kids will be sharing any worries or concerns they might have, such as trouble with a bully at school or anxiety about homework they’re having difficulty with.

This gives everyone the opportunity to listen and offer advice to help each other become more resilient and build on developing essential problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

Tips for family mealtimes

Keep it screen free
Screens get in the way of making family mealtimes a meaningful experience. While screens can be a blessing when it comes to getting fussy kids to sit still and eat their meal, it doesn’t do them any favours in the long run.

Let kids know that they can have their screens again after dinner- they’ll eventually come to associate dinner with family time.

Don’t put pressure on yourself
If you get stuck in traffic, a child falls ill or you’re not feeling your best, don’t feel guilty for not cooking a meal at home and eating with the family. Life happens, and there’s always tomorrow.

Start small
If your family doesn’t eat together often, this will be a big change for everyone. Start with one meal a week and gradually build up to a number that suits you and your family’s needs.

Be patient
Every family seems to have a fussy eater, and after a hard day at work and spending time cooking dinner, it can be incredibly frustrating when someone starts fussing and won’t eat.

Be patient with them (and yourself). Encourage them to try a bite, and if they still refuse after a few attempts, they can have a sandwich later. It’s not the end of the world and they won’t starve.

Mealtimes can be a wonderful way for families to bond and get to know each other on a deeper level. Whether you eat together once a week or every day, the benefits are well worth the effort.