Is Family Mealtime Important?

By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

According to recent surveys, less than half of the families in the United States actually sit down to a meal on a regular basis. Yet, studies report that family meals are strongly related to the development of adolescent mental health and stability. A Harvard Medical School study found that there are nutritional, as well as social, emotional and academic advantages that occur in children when families share meals together.

Why are family mealtimes important?
  • A sense of belonging and mutual trust is fostered when adults and children eat together and enjoy each other's company.
  • Family meals provide opportunities for adults to model table manners and nutritious food choices.
  • Eating together encourages adult-child communication skills such as listening patiently to each other and expressing one's opinion in a respectful manner.
  • Mealtimes provide a setting for moral and intellectual discussion where family values are shared.
  • Since children thrive on routines, family meals foster a sense of security and stability.
  • When children help with meals, they learn skills such as shopping, setting the table, preparing food, serving food, and cleaning up.
  • Family meals can foster family traditions and enhance cultural heritages.
What can busy families do to improve their mealtime enjoyment?
  1. KEEP IN MIND THAT IF YOU ARE TOO BUSY TO HAVE FAMILY MEALS, YOU MAY BE TOO BUSY. Plan ahead, think creatively, and make adjustments to fit your family's schedule. For example, you may want to change the time of day you eat together or have a picnic on a blanket before or after a ball game.
  2. HAVE MEALTIMES WITHOUT TELEVISION. If your family usually watches TV during dinner, decrease the habit slowly. Begin with one or two TV-free meals a week and gradually increase the number. Limit other distractions as well.
  3. KEEP FOOD SIMPLE AND VARIED. Elaborate meals are not necessary for quality family time. Serve the same favorite food on a certain day of the week or month. To save time and effort, plan for and use leftovers.
  4. SERVE FAMILY MEMBERS THE SAME FOOD AT THE SAME TIME. Provide a variety of food choices and refrain from forcing children to eat certain foods. If your children are not hungry at mealtime, cut back on snacks between meals.
  5. LIMIT THE TABLE DISCUSSION TO AGREEABLE OR NEUTRAL TOPICS. Focus on the positive by asking questions such as, "Tell something good that happened today." Listen attentively and make sure the speaker feels respected. Mealtime is not the place for criticism or rude behaviors.
  6. INVOLVE THE CHILDREN IN PLANNING, PREPARING, AND SERVING MEALS, THUS BUILDING TEAMWORK AND COOPERATION. Listen to their meal suggestions and try to make eating together fun. Invite them to help create memorable holiday foods and decorations.
  7. TRY PLAYING SOFT MUSIC, LIGHTING CANDLES OR USING FLOWERS TO CREATE A PLEASING ATMOSPHERE. For a special treat, have a family dinner in a quiet restaurant. Limit visits to fast-food establishments.
  8. TEACH BY SHOWING, NOT BY TELLING. When you make pleasant family mealtimes a priority, your child or children will more likely be healthy, well-mannered and well-adjusted.

Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]

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80 TEACHER/COUNSELOR ARTICLES11 PARENTING HANDOUTS10 CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES •  HELPFUL PARENTING RESOURCES